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Christian Giving Trends

As citizens of the wealthiest country in the world, how much do American Christians give? According to many of the following articles and papers, believers are increasingly giving less. How does this affect the church and its mission of “mak[ing] disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)? Read below to see the causes and consequences of this decrease in giving and what challenges this presents to the church in the future.


Articles and Papers

Where Does the Money Go? Budgets, Debts, and Salaries in Today’s Churches
Christianity Today International, 2003.
So, where does our church money go? As church fund-raising gets more challenging even though church members grow more prosperous, this is the right question to ask, and this 62-page survey of church budgets gives us the statistical breakdown. Conducted in 1999, this survey of U.S. pastors finds that most churches spend most money on staff compensation ($118,601 from an average budget of $292,790). This is followed by facilities ($54,194), missions ($45,259), church programs ($24,675), administration and supplies ($17,853), denominational contributions and fees ($11,539) and miscellaneous ($25,430). The study breaks down the churches based on size, type of pastoral leadership, and attitude toward debt. The report offers no conclusions; the statistics are simply laid out for the reader to digest. Of special interest is the chart on page 22 outlining methods used by churches to encourage giving: The majority of respondents (84%) cited the occasional sermon on giving as the main method of encouraging giving. Teaching on the Old Testament practice of tithing follows (72%), then “leaving it up to the Lord” (37%), “creating special programs” (35%), pledge requests (34%) and other methods (12%). Churches with senior pastors or churches in debt are more likely to focus on training the congregants in tithing and pledging. This information says much concerning the need to raise awareness about generosity in the church as a whole.

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Support of Overseas Missions Linked to Growth: International Funding Down by Most Denominations, Report Says
Philanthropy Journal, October 26, 2005.
This brief glance at what the American church gives to international missions shows a waning in the last 80 years of support. Empty Tomb, a nonprofit research group in Champaign, Ill., reported that shrinking denominations are at a support level of less than 1 percent, while growing groups are showing a higher level of support for international missions at 2.8 percent. But in either case giving to international missions is still on a steady decline.

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The Offering-Plate Rules
Terry Mattingly. Syndicated column from Scripps Howard News Service, January 24, 2001.
Over 50 percent of the members of any given Christian congregation donate little or nothing toward their church’s upkeep and ministries; and oftentimes the ones who do give are donating for all the wrong reasons. These are some of the sad findings in John and Sylvia Ronsvalle’s book Behind the Stained Glass Windows: Money Dynamics in the Church, according to syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly. There are many people in the pews on Sunday morning who have no desire to see their churches grow; if they do give money, it is often for such reasons as keeping the church facilities beautiful and suitable for such activities as weddings and funerals. Others consider their offerings as payment for inspiring sermons, youth programs and pastoral counseling in times of crisis. There are also parishioners who have a desire to please God in the area of their finances but need more encouragement, exhortation and guidance from their church leaders in how to give. The Ronsvalles conclude that we all need to have a greater vision for what we are investing in when we give to the church: “the hearts and lives of others.”

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Who Gives Two Cents for Missions? We Do, to Our Shame
Gene Edward Veith. World Magazine, October 22, 2005.
Of every dollar given to a U.S. Protestant church, the average amount that goes to overseas missions is two cents. In 1920 the church gave 10 percent of the total offering to missions, compared to today’s 2 percent. The church’s current spending practice seems to indicate an increased emphasis on internal operations and programs over the broader mission of the church. In addition, individual Christians do not even tithe, giving less per capita than Christians gave during the Great Depression. It is to our shame that we are so stingy with our money toward God.

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Giving to Religion
Giving USA Foundation: AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy. Excerpt from Giving USA 2005: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2004. Researched and written at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Indianapolis: Author, 2005.
This section in the Giving USA 2005 yearbook on U.S. charitable giving summarizes all donations to churches and religious organizations for the year 2004. Data is broken down into giving based upon religion and denomination and includes surprising trends such as the inverse relation between religious giving and church participation and attendance. There is also a discussion of events that may have triggered certain trends, such as the Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal and the organizing of a national council for Islamic charities, which likely will increase giving among U.S. Muslims. Relevant trends include an overall stabilization in giving to religious organizations after a down year in 2003, with an estimated increase in giving by 4.4 percent (1.7 percent adjusted for inflation). Also, according to a Pew Research Center poll, Americans are becoming more religious than they were in the 1980s. Protestants who would consider themselves “born again” have increased from 41 percent in 1987 to 54 percent in 2003. This section concludes with a study of Jewish philanthropic giving (broken down into giving by region and household income) between 2000 and 2001. Note: No downloadable text or audio is available at this time.

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Twelve Trends in Christian Philanthropy
Fred Smith. The Gathering Newsletter, 2000.
How much do Americans give? Which organizations are targets of American giving? “More than $76 billion of the almost $180 billion given by Americans [in 1998] was given to religion.” In this essay Fred Smith, president of the Gathering, analyzes giving among evangelical churches and para-church organizations, showing the differences between the two groups and how they affect one another. Even though “giving as a percentage of income is declining,” and “congregations are keeping more of their income,” Smith notes 12 trends that may affect Christian charitable giving in the future: (1) Increased giving by women will affect both churches and para-churches. (2) Increased attention to relief and development, the poor and microenterprise development among evangelical donors. (3) The increase of individuals capable of funding their own ministries and organizations. (4) The increase in venture philanthropy with the disciplines of investing and investment banking instead of reactive giving. (5) The increase in funding of educational options by evangelicals. (6) The increase in congregation-based foundations. (7) The increase in specialized staffing to train stewardship in large congregations. (8) The creation and increase of local and national Christian community foundations. (9) The increase in family foundations among evangelicals. (10) The historic competition for financial and people resources between congregations and para-church organizations will continue to decrease. (11) The creation of new wealth by entrepreneurial Christians will be more important than the transfer of old wealth to heirs. (12) The creation of transnational networks of major Christian funders.

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Giving to Churches Rose Substantially in 2003
News release by Barna Research Group, April 13, 2004.
One sure-fire indicator that the U.S. economy is recovering is found in survey data showing that Americans donated significantly more money to nonprofit organizations in 2003 than in 2002. A report from the Barna Group shows that giving to churches and to nonprofit organizations of all types jumped in the past 12 months, with the average dollars donated to churches hitting the highest level since 2000. The study also found that the percentage of adults who tithed to a church remained unchanged, but there are sizeable differences in the proportion of people who tithe according to various demographic and theolographic characteristics.

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Giving in Different Denominations: Religious Giving Has Reached All-Time Lows
Julia Duin. Philanthropy (May 2001).
It turns out that Americans give 14 times as much money to religious charities than they spend on sports. In philanthropy, the single largest category of giving is religion. But today, in a time of soaring individual incomes, religious giving is down as a percentage of income, especially among Christians. Nearly every denomination agrees that giving is nowhere near the Old Testament tithe. Giving among U.S. Jews mirrors the decline among Christians though the numbers are masked by the relative wealth of the Jewish population and by the number of Jews who give at the highest levels of philanthropy. It is estimated that Jewish giving is between the Catholic 1.5 percent and the mainline Protestant 2.9 percent. But America’s more than 6 million Muslims have no trouble building a base of charitable givers. The Muslim standard for giving is 2.5 percent of one’s net income for zakat, one of the five requirements, or pillars, of Islam. How can we best turn around the 40-year nosedive in religious charitable giving? A researcher from Empty Tomb suggests showing congregants exactly how their dollars are being spent, especially overseas, leading givers to feel that their hard-earned money is not going into a black hole.

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Tithers Becoming Rare in American Churches
K. Connie Kang. Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2003.
Jean and Jim Darrell are a Los Angeles couple of modest means, living frugally by necessity. He works part time for an internist, and she house-sits and watches friends’ pets. They drive a 1989 Mazda and seldom go out to eat. Yet they’ve been giving one-tenth of their gross income to their church for 20 years—even when he was laid off. But people such as the Darrells—those who hew to the biblical mandate of tithing—are increasingly rare, according to surveys and church records of contributions.

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Tithing Down 62% in the Past Year
George Barna. News release by Barna Research Group, May 19, 2003.
Church revenues fell during the past 12 months. One reason may well be the decline in the proportion of Christians who tithe. Among the highlights of this report on tithing are: (1) The proportion of adults who tithe dropped by 62 percent in the past year. (2) Just 6 percent of born-again households tithed to their churches in 2002. (3) Tithing, when it occurs, is generally among Protestants: 5 percent of adults who attend Protestant churches tithed last year, compared to less than one-tenth of 1 percent among Catholics. (4) Among the groups most likely to tithe are people over 55, college graduates, evangelicals, Republicans, conservatives, and residents of the South—but there was no segment among which at least 10 percent tithed.

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New Congregational Engagement Figures Released
Albert L. Winseman. Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing, February 25, 2003.
This briefing summarizes the most recent Gallup findings on national congregational engagement. Engagement is the key driver of the most important outcomes in measuring congregational effectiveness. New figures suggest that nationwide, members’ likelihood to be engaged in their congregations has remained stable in the face of Americans’ reduced confidence in organized religion. Engaged members of congregations give almost twice as much money to their congregations as those who are not engaged, and more than three times as much as those who are actively disengaged.

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A Bare Church Cupboard
Cathy Lynn Grossman. USA Today, December 17, 2002.
The color of Christmas may be red ink this year for many of the nation’s churches. Experts blame 6 percent unemployment and sinking investment income for pummeling budgets of congregations great and small, black and white, urban and suburban. Adding to it: scandals, controversies and rumors of war. Many religious institutions finished November at 10 percent to 20 percent below the usual level for the year to date. Churches will cut activities and programs and equipment; the last thing they will cut is staff, one church leaders says.

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Study Disputes Rosy Reports, Finds Steady Fall in Benevolence
Larry Witham. The Washington Times, November 19, 2002.
Americans have given less and less of their disposable income to religious charity since the 1960s and now spend more on church buildings and staff and less on helping the needy, according to a study by Empty Tomb, a Christian research group that has criticized rosy philanthropic reports. The findings suggest Americans have grown stingy in an era when the Bush administration is banking on citizen generosity to solve social problems. “The churches have been servicing people rather than transforming them,” said coauthor Sylvia Ronsvalle.

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Shame on Us: Christians in America Know Very Little about Serious Giving
Joel Belz. World, August 24, 2002.
Not that there's anything at all wrong with giving appreciated stock to your favorite charity. It would be dumb not to do so. But for a donor to think about that as serious or sacrificial giving is pretty self-serving, the author argues. And especially for a Christian, who has been taught by Jesus what sacrifice is all about, to rely on tax technicalities to call himself generous—that misses the whole point, and may also miss the blessing God intends for really committed givers.

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Bush Proposal Could Increase Tithes
Clint Cooper. The Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, February 11, 2001.
Christian tithing (the biblically mandated giving of 10 percent of income to the church), it is thought, may become more popular in the United States in light of President Bush’s proposed tax credits and deductions for charitable giving. Roughly three-quarters of all charitable gifts in America go to churches, and tax incentives may increase donated dollars significantly. Statistics indicate that, nationwide, tithing has been in a steady decline. But pastors in Chattanooga, Tenn., though they interpret the command to tithe differently, claim that local tithing is on the comeback already and hope that Bush’s proposal will encourage this trend.

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The State of Church Giving through 1998
Empty Tomb. Press Release, December 12, 2000.
The American church is wealthy but not generous, though evangelicals are a bit more generous than their mainline counterparts, says this Empty Tomb research press release. The report provides a collection of telling statistics on Christian giving in the late 20th century. The church is more affluent than it has ever been, but giving as a percentage of income is lower than it was at the depth of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Christian giving falls far short even of the tithe, eliminating over $100 billion of potential charitable resources. Empty Tomb exhorts the church to transformed sacrificial giving.

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Giving to Religion: How Generous Are We?
John and Sylvia Ronsvalle. The Christian Century, June 3-10, 1998.
There is good reason to believe that Americans are receiving an overly optimistic picture of charitable giving in the United States. As a result, church members do not have accurate information to help assess their own giving or to evaluate broader trends. Solid information about giving is also crucial in light of current discussion about the private sector's ability to take on social service programs that governments are relinquishing. As Arthur Hays Sulzberger, former publisher of the New York Times, said, "A man's judgment cannot he better than the information on which he has based it."

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Tithing Falls by Wayside
Julia Duin. The Washington Times, January 18, 2002.
In philanthropy, the single largest recipient of giving is religion. But religious giving is down—and slipping further. Some blame the September 11 terrorist attacks for the slowdown. But researchers said the paucity in donations began well before the attacks and reflected a greater malaise, especially among the young who were not keeping up with their parents in giving levels.

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Generous Christians in a Stingy World
John H. Redekop. Mennonite Brethren Herald 36, no. 3 (February 7, 1997).
This op-ed piece in the English-language magazine of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches paints a dismal picture of charitable giving trends by Canadians in general and Canadian Christians in particular. The author argues that of the 67 percent of religious Canadians who "believe that Jesus Christ was crucified, died and was buried but was resurrected to eternal life," well over half ignore the Lord's command that His followers should give joyfully to the needy and to the building of the Kingdom.

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Stewardship, Community and Parsimony
Christina Villa. United Church of Christ, Connections, Fall 2001.
Stewardship focuses on the giving of money far more than on the spending of it. We may speak of individuals’ spending as the context in which to protest materialism, consumerism, and selfishness, in order to advance the spiritual importance of giving and generosity. But once the people have been generous, and given to the church, what are the attitudes and approaches that the church itself then takes toward spending?

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Stingy Stewards
Lynn Robinson. Re:generation Quarterly 4, no. 4 (Winter 1998).
This article compares giving by young Catholics and Protestants in their 20s, 30s and 40s, distinguishing between those with high weekly church attendance and those who attend infrequently.

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Giving in All the Right Places
John and Sylvia Ronsvalle. The Gathering Newsletter 6, no. 2 (June 2000): 6.
Congregations are rarely seen as places for significant ministry. Some persons of wealth voice a fear of overwhelming the congregation with their giving. Whatever the reason, the local congregation (the building block of the body of Christ, where the eternal truths and basic discipleship are taught and fostered) often does not benefit from the interest and leadership of persons of wealth. The consequences for the health of the church can be serious.

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Churches Lose Financial Ground in 2000
George Barna. News release by Barna Research Group, June 5, 2001.
Barna’s most recent news release on church giving indicates that 30-year old trends are continuing. Individual giving to churches fell another 6 percent in 2000, as it has done for the past several years. Churches remain the most-given-to nonprofit agencies (receiving about 60 percent of all individual gifts), although giving to parachurch ministries is growing in popularity. Among other worrisome findings: 32 percent of Christians claim to tithe, while only 12 percent actually did in 2000.

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Barna Research Archives: Stewardship
George Barna. Barna Research Group.
Barna’s research archives offer a snapshot on stewardship trends in five categories: surveying reported giving, reported giving to the local church, para-church giving, the perspective from the pulpit, and church budget.

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Religious Giving in Five Denominations: Descriptions, Patterns, and Causes
Dean R. Hoge, Charles Zech, Patrick McNamara and Michael J. Donahue. Journal of Stewardship (Ecumenical Center for Stewardship Studies) 48 (1996).
Information from a survey of five denominations—Assemblies of God, Southern Baptist Convention, Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—is compiled together to provide some statistics on giving. The authors acknowledge that the surveys were conducted among church attenders who are older, more educated and wealthier than average. Thus, giving levels from this group are higher than one might find among a group of average church attenders/members. The study found that Assemblies of God congregations give the most per capita, Catholic congregations the least. Those with lower family incomes tend to give a higher percentage of income, though actual dollar amounts are lower than gifts from higher income brackets. Conservative denominations give at higher levels. Overall, this study focuses on presenting empirical data rather than on positing spiritual reasons to explain the data. Note: No downloadable text or audio is available at this time.

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Stewardship Statistics
Ken Bedell. Journal of Stewardship (Ecumenical Center for Stewardship Studies) 48 (1996).
This study of several U.S. and Canadian denominations provides statistics on church contributions and benevolences per church member for 1994, growth in giving trends, and U.S. consumption patterns. This survey merely presents empirical data without positing explanations for the data. Note: No downloadable text or audio is available at this time.

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Falling Far Short of a Tithe: Churches Are Collecting More Than Ever, but Members Are Contributing Smaller Portions of Their Incomes. Churchgoers Give 2.52% of After-Tax Incomes in 1998, Study Shows
Larry B. Stammer. Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2001.
This article reports on the financial status of giving in the American church by means of statistics culled from the annual report titled The State of Church Giving through 1998, as well as commentary from concerned southern California pastors. Using information from 10 mainline Protestant denominations plus the Southern Baptist Convention, we learn that, in terms of percentage, church members give less today than they did during the darkest days of the Great Depression; and that church members give an average of only 2.52 percent of their incomes. Pastors say they feel ill-equipped to educate their members on proper giving, despite the current need for it. Note: No downloadable text or audio is available at this time.

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