Ghandi, Sugar and the “Needy Church”

A couple of people have asked for permission to share this story.  Here is a PDF version of this post to download and share.
The Needy Church (1 page PDF)

I just stumbled across the classic story of Gandhi and a little boy who wanted to eat sugar.  Do you know it?  On this read it made me think of our congregations and our stewardship…

Once upon a time a mother came to Gandhi with her little boy.  She told Gandhi her son ate too much sugar.  “Please, tell my son to stop eating sugar.” To this Ghandi asks her to come back in three days. Three days later the mother and son return.  Ghandi then proceeds to tell the son to stop eating sugar, that it isn’t good for him.The mother looks at Ghandi shocked and asks why he couldn’t have said this three days earlier.  “Because three days ago, I too was eating sugar.”

It is very common for our congregations to dedicate time in every worship service asking, if not begging, for money. I’ve found these collections can undermine the success of the larger stewardship drive as people feel like they’ve been giving all year.   And when they are unsuccessful, the fund-raising is followed by multiple appeals to cover the shortfall, bigger begging.  In short, we ask people to be inspiring in their personal stewardship while the congregation is modeling a “me first” survival mindset.

Here’s my adaptation of the sugar story for congregations…

The Needy Church
by Peter Bowden

Once upon a time a church struggling to meet its budget brought its members to the most respected church in the community.  “Please!  Tell my members they need to give away more of their money. They aren’t very generous and the congregation suffers as a result.”  The big church said to come back in a year. One year later they returned.  The big church said, “People, giving away a significant portion of your income to others will not only help transform our community, you will be transformed as well.”  To this the other church asked why the wait.  “Because when you first came, our congregation was keeping all of our pledge income to support our own institutional survival. We weren’t giving any away ourselves.  But now we’ve approved an experiment for next year to give away all Sunday collections and  10% of all pledges to charitable causes.”

What if your congregation approached its worship offerings, budget and larger stewardship as if it was Ghandi needing to tell members and friends about generosity?  What would new behaviors would be required?

I think something like this:

  • ALL of the worship offerings are given away to support charities outside of the congregation.
  • Budgets intentionally drafted as moral documents including giving percentage of total pledges.
  • Stewardship process calls people to participate in outward focused work of the congregation.

What would the impact be?

  • Each week we feel good about helping a charity.  People give more and it feels better!
  • Modeling stewardship as an institution raises the bar for everyone.  The church reclaims its moral (budgeting) authority.
  • When people are asked to pledge, it is a simpler calculation and an easier decision.


  1. What would happen if your congregation modeled the generosity you wanted to see in your members?
  2. Does your congregation ever give away a portion of its offering or annual budget?
  3. Share related ideas, stories, learning in comments below.

4 thoughts on “Ghandi, Sugar and the “Needy Church”

  1. Community giving isn’t a budget panacea.

    If read wrong, the post could suggest that “generous giving in our budget will have a nice payoff,” but a congregation should be aware that giving-for-need’s-sake will be an expense item in the budget for the foreseeable future, especially in the current economy. However, it may be significantly lower an expense than anticipated.

    Whoever has moral authority in the congregation (Social Justice Committee, minister, Board) can float the idea, and persuade the rest of the leadership that it’s an idea worth trying. The Finance Committee can be approached with the idea as an “experiment,” to see how it goes (we love measurable experiments). It may well be that, as in my congregation, there’s a budget outflow, but that the congregation feels such a sense of pride and community that we don’t want to stop giving — even the skeptical members of the Finance Committee — plus, the experiment may nearly pay for itself, even from the beginning.

    ~~ Ellen Skagerberg
    Chair, Financial Stewardship Council
    UU Congregation, Santa Rosa (California)

  2. My church just started donating one Sunday offering to a different local charity each month. It’s a step toward what you describe. It will be interesting to see how it impacts our collection totals.

    Greg W
    Governor of Membership
    UU congregation in Massachusetts

  3. Thanks for sharing this reframing of the Gandhi story to provide both a new lens and a challenge to UU congregations looking for new ways to stimulate generous behavior for the benefit of the congregation and its local community. I think the challenge of modeling desired behavior as a reflection of faith in action is worthy of deeper consideration on the part of congregation leaders and congregants. Just as our individual check book ledgers reflect our values and priorities, so do congregation budget lines.


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