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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Christians: Are We As Generous As We Think We Are?

Giving This comes from the "From the Salmon" blog... on the subject of giving trends:

Here’s a passage from Ron Sider’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience:

John and Sylvia Ronsvalle have been carefully analyzing the giving patterns of American Christians for well over a decade. Their annual The State of Christian Giving is the most accurate report for learning how much Christians in the richest nation in human history actually give. In their most recent edition, they provide detailed information about per-member giving patterns of U.S. church members from 1968 to 2001. Over those thirty-plus years, of course, the average income of U.S. Christians has increased enormously. But that did not carry over into their giving. The report showed that the richer we become, the less we give in proportion to our incomes.

In 1968, the average church member gave 3.1 percent of their income — less than a third of a tithe. That figure dropped every year through 1990 and then recovered slightly to 2.66 percent — about one quarter of a tithe.

Evangelical giving, consistently higher than that of mainline denominations, has fallen from 6.15 percent in 1968 to 4.27 percent in 2001. Sider again:

As we got richer and richer, evangelicals chose to spend more and more on themselves and give a smaller and smaller percentage to the church. Today, on average, evangelicals in the United States give about two-fifths of a tithe.

In 2002, Barna discovered that only 6 percent of born-again adults tithed — a 50-percent decline from 2000 when 12 percent did. And in 2002, just 9 percent of Barna’s narrow class of evangelicals tithed.

These figures are staggering. Churchgoers in the US are falling far short of the bare minimum amount of giving that their Scriptures ask.

Poverty is an enormous problem. The Bible is very clear about how important it is for Christians to meet this enormous need. While we’re certainly giving a lot of money to these efforts, we could be giving more. We should be giving more.

Look, I’m certainly open to arguments that we should rely less on government aid to relieve and reduce the extreme poverty around the world. But you have to prove to me that something else will fill the void. You think that something else should be the Church? Great. So do I.

Let’s talk about how to make that happen.

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November 16, 2005 in Church Finances | Permalink

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Comments

That's the church of the USA, the "church of Laodicea." Jesus described it. You described it the same way, but in different words.

Jesus said (Rev. 3):
15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

The solution isn't tithing (contrary to the article's implication). It's stewardship. BIG DIFFERENCE! To teach tithing for Christians is false theology (along with the blessings/cursings applied to Christians from Malachi ch. 3). If we could learn to be good stewards of God's money, I don't think we would have a problem with generousity and honoring God with our money.

Teaching that Christians should tithe is part of the problem. Instead, please teach stewardship. Everything we have belongs to God (not necessarily the local church), not just 10% of our increase (or 10% of spoils from war if you think Abraham practiced tithing).

Please download the free book on tithing available here (sells for $20 at amazon.com):

"Should the Church Teach Tithing?" by Dr. Russell Kelly
http://www.freegoodnews.com/REK-Tithing2.pdf

...Bernie

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Nov 16, 2005 1:54:32 PM

Bernie's bootlegging copies of this book at his website.

Talk about great stewardship!

:)

Todd

Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Nov 16, 2005 2:03:47 PM

Actually, Todd, perhaps the reference on Bernie's post should be removed if that's the case. I mean... isn't every copy that is distributed freely money taken from the pocket of the author? Is there a copyright notice in the file? Doesn't distributing the book require written permission from the author?

Perhaps Bernie has this permission? I don't know.

I have other thoughts... but in deference to the spirit of your site, I'm not gonna go there... (But I AM gonna tithe this week... to my local church... -also my place of employment- and yes, I think it's GREAT stewardship!)

;-P

Peter

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Nov 16, 2005 3:03:27 PM

I have permission from the author to offer his book for free download.

"Should the Church Teach Tithing?" by Dr. Russell Kelly
http://www.freegoodnews.com/REK-Tithing2.pdf

...Bernie

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Nov 16, 2005 4:13:04 PM

Confused here: Isn't stewardship more the attitude of returning a portion of all we have, and tithing the actual act of giving money? I'm not going to download that book Bernie, if it's going to be dishonest.

I agree that stewardship needs to be taught, but I really think that tithing is important. Since I understood the concept I have rarely missed a tithe and it thrills me to plunk a big ole check in the plate (We get paid monthly). I know I am blessed for it - that is evident in our finances.

Stewardship is a tougher subject though, because you are dealing with attitudes of what we supposedly "own", or are in possession of. But it's also tougher because good stewardship is not only the attitude, but it's what, in a practical sense, comes AFTER you have received the tithe into the church.

I've erased 15 sentences here because I just can't seem to separate the two concepts, if they need to be apart. If you have the attitude of being a good steward and you are working to do that, then obviously your would want to tithe, wouldn't you? And you probably also give canned goods to the food bank, and donate your kids winter coats at WalMart, and spread around the hand-me-downs, and bake dinner for the neighbor with a broken leg, etc.

Am I really just agreeing with Bernie? (horrors, ha ha) But why is teaching tithing wrong? Obviously people AREN'T doing it or have cut back on doing it and this is a problem for churches.

Posted by: Abbey | Nov 16, 2005 4:26:23 PM

Abbey said:
"I'm not going to download that book Bernie, if it's going to be dishonest."

Abbey, how much can I pay you to read the book? How about if I fill your gas tank?

Just kidding... referring to the other article about paying people to come to church...

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Nov 16, 2005 4:42:54 PM

Bernie says "Abbey, how much can I pay you to read the book? How about if I fill your gas tank?"

LOL Bernie! That's a good one! (But I'm still gonna tithe... and I agree with Abbey on that one.)

How 'bout the larger question of declining giving in churches, though? Before we get side-tracked, regardless of how you feel about tithing, couldn't it be that our lifestyles and appetites are outgrowing our finances?

We work more hours (for what seems like less money) than our parents did, we used to have just one phone at home, now everyone in the family is chewing up minutes/dollars on the cell phones, we're paying for high-speed internet (so we can read Todd's blog, of course)...

Instead of paying 300 bucks for a 27" TV, we're paying 3000 for a 42" plasma set, we are increasingly buying more and more expensive furniture and clothing it seems, and credit card debt is so out of control and savings are at an all-time low.

Is it possible that the problem is a cultural one more than a "religious" one? How can the church help educate us on how to live more simply, more "reasonably"... which would be better stewardship of what God gives us, don't you think?

PS And if Bernie fills up MY gas tank, I will read the book... Anybody else in on that one?

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Nov 17, 2005 7:40:53 AM

Bernie it costs about $45 to fill up my tank, so I think just buying the book would be cheaper all around! And I will download it since you said you had permission.

Gotta agree with Peter. I have been struggling with the simplicity issue for a long time - it has made my family downsize our house to begin with. I would love to hear some messages on that style of stewardship - simplicity. I know that if I am struggling over it others must be too.

We've always practiced simplicity as best we can, but gee whiz, you add the kids in there and it gets HARD. I find myself mentally passing judgement on what I conside excesses in their lives and wondering if they tithe, why they put all those things in higher priority than church and God. Even as I think these things I pray that God will order their lives so that they place Him first.

There is so much pressure from society that is in direct opposition to being a good steward - like the mountain of debt folks accrue, and NOT saving, and all that brain dead time in front of the TV (and computer hee hee).

I read a neat article that described how, in the days before all this in-home media, people didn't turn off their brains like we do in front of the tube. Their down time was filled with WORK and more work and study and books and people.

I really do long for simplicity, when life revolved around the church family as well as your own and that was the focal point of people's activities.

sort of off subject I know, but stewardship of our time is a big thing with me. It's part of the reason we homeschool.

Posted by: Abbey | Nov 17, 2005 8:53:33 AM

Peter and Abbey, I think you are on the right track, regarding simplicity. However, TBN TV with people like John Hagee, Kenneth Copeland, and TD Jakes are teaching a prosperity gospel which is advocating just the opposite; chasing money in the name of God and the gospel. You have to fight not only the world and worldlinenss, but many in "the church." I hope you both join the revolution... the reformation. When the "church" is what it should be, then we'll have a chance at revival.

...Bernie

Posted by: bernie dehler | Nov 17, 2005 11:24:59 AM

By the way, Todd lets me post the above message, so there's hope. Most (almost all) church boards wouldn't... too divisive. This is how and why the false gospel and prosperity teachers are able to multiply and proliferate.

...Bernie

Posted by: bernie dehler | Nov 17, 2005 11:27:16 AM

Bernie,

First, may I say how much I enjoy our exchanges. I actually look forward to them! You say "TBN TV with people like John Hagee, Kenneth Copeland, and TD Jakes are teaching a prosperity gospel which is advocating just the opposite". I agree!

I want to restate what a friend said years ago when the news came out about Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert. Those people are NOT the "mainstream" of Christ-followers. They are just TV personalities with titles like Reverend and Bishop. They are to the church as reality television is to reality. (in other words... no real 1:1 correllation)

The "mainstream" is a whole different story, and much less visible, because those of us who are smart (and I will include some famous individuals here, like Rick and Bill...) do NOT have TV shows!

And I for one am THRILLED that Todd lets you post your messages. I probably disagree with you on so much stuff, and yet... I respect you and want to hear you. Hey... maybe WE are the "mainstream" of the church!

Love ya, brother!
Peter

PS... So... any other ideas why we in the church aren't giving anymore like we did not too long ago? You all have heard from us loudmouths...

;-P

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Nov 17, 2005 11:42:27 AM

I agree that the Church, not the government, should be caring for the poor and those down on their luck. Unfortunately, there are some hard realities:

Take Katrina. I have not looked at final figures yet, but from various sources, I am fairly certain the government's very first pledge of ten billion dollars exceeded all private donations to Katrina relief. When it comes to people holding hands out for relief, they will go to the government first, because the government forces everyone to give. I should care for the poor? I pay 6.2 percent of my paycheck to Social Security, matched by my employer, to pay for often able-bodied retirees along with others who no longer can work. This does not include sales taxes, property taxes, car taxes, and other taxes and fees I pay directly or indirectly to feed, clothe, house, educate, and protect fellow Americans. Puh-lease. I am already paying between thirty to fifty percent of my income in taxes!

Second, those who are poor and choose not to improve themselves with handups will remain poor the next time a survey is taken. Nevertheless, those who choose to remain in the situation which makes them poor often will receive taxpayer-subsidized relief, anyway. Why should they come to a church or ministry to which I give when, with persistence and the right shibboleths, they can get government money with few or no strings attached and without having to listen to someone preach to them about how God can improve their lives?

Third, there will always be poverty. It cannot be eliminated. Both the Law and Jesus testified to this matter.

Fourth, I am told to work to support myself, but I am told to go to church more, which will cut into time I am available for work, but I am told to give more, although if I work less, I have earn less to give, but I am told to save for the future, but I am told not to worry about tomorrow. Most of you, I assume, know of what I speak. Has anyone considered just how confusing all of these messages coming out of the pulpit can be?

Posted by: Michael Rew | Nov 17, 2005 12:54:16 PM

Michael said:
"Take Katrina. I have not looked at final figures yet, but from various sources, I am fairly certain the government's very first pledge of ten billion dollars exceeded all private donations to Katrina relief. "

I heard one political expert say about the looting, when it was happening, "you haven't seen anything yet." He meant the real 'looting' will take place when the big money starts flowing in, and the politicians and others take and play with it. The white-collar looting by people in business suits may well dwarf the blue-collar on-the-street looting.

Make sure you give your money to a reputable source. Many are raising warning flags about the American Red Cross. NW Medical Teams is a very responsible one... my pick for my money.

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Nov 17, 2005 1:59:04 PM

Re: those TV preachers and the prosperity gospel - ICK ICK AND DOUBLE ICK. I can't stand them and don't watch any TV preacher on ANY station for fear that my "ears will be tickled" and I won't be able to discern anything.

I guess I never thought about them contributing to the whole me-me-gimme-prosperity attitude because I don't take them seriously. I mean be for real "Open your wallet and money will appear if you have enough faith." Yet, I have friends who follow Creflo Dollar like he's a...well...a god.

So Michael I really agree with you. Hasn't the church fallen down on its obligations and ALLOWED the gov't to pick up the tab? That is one of the reasons, when my hubby was ordained, we chose to withdraw from the Soc Sec Sys on our religious beliefs. It's why I'm fighting for the Fair Tax (fairtaxvolunteer.org) and why I believe we can't be good Christians without being politically active.

And you're also right about there always being the poor.

Sometime I just want to yell "STOP" and rewind the clock to like 50 years ago (as long as I can keep my internet provider and microwave.)

Posted by: Abbey | Nov 17, 2005 3:38:32 PM

Whoever said this said it best...

"Kill your television."

;-P

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Nov 17, 2005 3:52:33 PM

Abbey said:
"I guess I never thought about them contributing to the whole me-me-gimme-prosperity attitude because I don't take them seriously. I mean be for real "Open your wallet and money will appear if you have enough faith." Yet, I have friends who follow Creflo Dollar like he's a...well...a god. "

I heard we have a local church teaching the same thing... probably got it from TV, no doubt...

Look at the lifestyle of TD Jakes. I guess once you pay your 10%, plus a little more to prove how godly you are, then it's perfectly fine to be greedy... I mean "blessed." Isn't that how most of the preachers put it?

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Nov 17, 2005 6:09:19 PM

I may be wrong, but I think the Church used to run the majority of schools, hospitals, food charities, and maybe even prisons in America (which is why they were/are called "penitentiaries," where a criminal went to feel "penitent" about his sins).

Don't get me wrong. There are excesses in the Church as well as in government. I think it is hard for some of the poor when well-fed, well-dressed, well-educated Christians tell them to make do with the scraps tossed them when we go back to our climate-controlled houses and watch TV before sleeping in comfortable beds surrounded by luxuries we rarely use and do not need. But let's be serious about what some consider the alleviation of poverty: It is not just, say, the provision of food and clothing, but of affordable housing in safe neighborhoods, electricity, indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning, a reliable car, medical care, and enough money to provide for some level of entertainment, including television, radio, movies, and eating out. Throw on top of that college tuition and/or high-level job training. When people have a savings rate at or below zero, and they are living on credit, what do they have to give? We need to reconsider what we need, but we need to reconsider what the poor need, too. I think too many people are being beaten over the head about it. Outhouses used to be what everyone used. Now an outhouse is considered squalor. There must be indoor plumbing. A house without air conditioning? Impossible! And haven't you heard that everyone has a right to cable television and the Internet? I bet you didn't know!

Posted by: Michael Rew | Nov 18, 2005 12:58:58 AM

Bernie says "I guess once you pay your 10%, plus a little more to prove how godly you are, then it's perfectly fine to be greedy... I mean "blessed." Isn't that how most of the preachers put it?"

Most of what preachers? What churches are you spending time in? In this case, I think maybe a few bad apples spoil the batch because we only focus on the bad apples. Those guys are NOT the mainstream of the Church, I'm guessing we all agree on that...

Michael says "And haven't you heard that everyone has a right to cable television and the Internet?" There is a lot of truth in what you say, even if you think that the rich in America are who is keeping the poor poor. It's like the story about the family who was so poor that they couldn't afford a dining room table and had to eat their meals off the box that the Large Screen TV came in.

But we who CAN give have shifted our priorities into some never-never-land, too. But I think that might have been part of your point.

So, has everybody who's posted here sponsored any kids through Compassion or World Vision or something like that? There's a good start!

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Nov 18, 2005 8:24:49 AM

One of my concerns in this dialogue is that tithing is the definition of giving to the church.

Personally, as a lay person, I give what I understand Scripture asks of me. The 10% of my income to a church body, and the rest to whatever needs may arise. But should that be the extent? (This is the stewardship argument.) So I am irresponsible to my church if I give 5% at one building and 5% at another? What about the offerings of time and service? Are those not great offerings? (Alas, we have no measurement for those things, except for positions.)

I, frankly, would be more comfortable increasing the amount I gave to my church if I was convinced they weren't going to spend in on another mailer or video program. Give it to the pastor so he can buy more people coffee. Give it to a working mom who can't make ends meet - but for goodness sake (and I mean that literally) spend it wisely.

If a church doesn't spend it wisely but is not overtly mismanaging it - and I recognize that I could switch congregations, then my response is to hold the money to my breast that I would give directly to those in need, feed my neighbor, or sponsor a small child through a charity.

If we looked at churches in the same way as we do businesses, and not in the market driven sense - how much do we spend unneccesarily? How much is lost in overhead? Are all the resources we afford ourselves really working towards the end goal? What is the end goal? Reaching people? Helping them in their needs? Saving souls? All of the above? None of the above? (None of the above in singular focus rather but secondary focus.)

So what do you think?

Posted by: Christopher | Nov 18, 2005 1:56:45 PM

Bernie said:
"Bernie says "I guess once you pay your 10%, plus a little more to prove how godly you are, then it's perfectly fine to be greedy... I mean "blessed." Isn't that how most of the preachers put it?"

Peter Hamm said:
"Most of what preachers? What churches are you spending time in? In this case, I think maybe a few bad apples spoil the batch because we only focus on the bad apples. Those guys are NOT the mainstream of the Church, I'm guessing we all agree on that..."

I think the faulty attitude is very well entrenched into the mainstream. I oppose it when I see it, and it really makes the fur fly. But it's not a popularity contest, and those who stand for truth will be persecuted (Jesus, John the Baptist, Apostles). Ever wonder why the popular preachers aren't persecuted (Billy Graham, Rick Warrens, etc.)?

James 4:4
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Luke 6:26
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

...Bernie

Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Nov 18, 2005 2:21:51 PM

Christopher,

Good thoughts! But the dangerous extreme that one can come to is that everybody who gives to a church makes themselves the de facto chairman of the finance committee. In other words, a certain amount of trust needs to be given to the elders whose job it is to oversee the budget. (And if all the decisions are made by the pastor or pastoral --read "paid"-- staff, then perhaps the structure is not sound.)

Example, I had a guy who owned his own business come to me one time at the end of the year and say basically "I'm about to give a big amount that's the rest of my tithe for the year and I want you to tell me what to designate it for." You see, he didn't know until mid-december just how much he was earning... many business owners don't. Anyway, I told him not to designate it at all, but to trust the team that makes those decisions, which he agreed to do.

But, Christopher, your point is SO well taken, especially in churches that abuse their finances. So... be informed. Sometimes you need to be the squeaky wheel. My favorite people at my church are the squeaky wheels! They keep us all honest, and not just in finances! But if the people on that team or commmitte that make these decisions are trustworthy and honest... then by all means trust them!

Peter

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Nov 18, 2005 2:27:24 PM

Peter,

Trust is essential in any relationship of autority. I had to wrestle with a very entry level issue that heavily messed with me once I started working on a church commitee. Even if my pastor is wrong, even if he is leading down the wrong road, even if he doesn't have his thumb on the spirit of God (or so I percieve)- I must trust God to lead him or correct him. My job is not to save him from folly, sometimes he will not heed any warning. My job is to love him and serve him - even if he is doing things I disagree with. To voice my dissent with honor and then to support. Sometimes I have to risk him being wrong.

I do agree wholeheartedly with your point and I may not have truly balanced my question - I do trust certain percentages of my income to my pastor and the finance team - and do this by trusting the Lord with the idea that where I am at is where I am called and where I am called my tithe goes.

Tag. Your it.

Posted by: Christopher | Nov 18, 2005 5:59:00 PM

Peter mentions the poor family eating dinner off the box the large screen TV came in. Ha ha. When I was a kid it was the families living in shacks driving Cadillacs. Always has been, always will be. Priorities.

Yep, we're sponsoring our second child thru World Vision now. This fella wants to be a Doctor - he's from Colombia. I wish every family would do this - the amount of sponsorship is the equivalent of eating Sunday dinner at a moderate restaurant for 4 people!

Re: Christopher and Peter's above conversation - trust is the key, and it's so terribly abused on both sides (pulpit and lay). I agree with C's comments about even if the Pastor is heading to left field, we need to be faithful in giving - my husband has had some bad experiences in this. (He's the worship leader, but during an time of interim pastor, the "owner" of the church said he'd better change the music or people would stop giving. THIS guy was the deacon chair - holding the tithe ransom!)

And being faithful carries thru to our time - I didn't understand FAITH or want to be involved in it, but I went along with the program and MY little paradigm was shifted, to God be the glory!

We've had the great good fortune to tithe off of inheritance - a large sum - and I didn't even equate it with how it was spent in the church. And when some folks in that church turned on us it didn't occur to me to resent giving what amounted to 2x our yearly salary. It's God's money.

I'n my mind you either TRUST God or you don't and that trust pervades time, resources, tithing, extra giving, support of the leaders, ALL OF IT. It's like a marriage - you either have an attitude of "we're in this together" or you don't and you operate as such.

And yet, my big beef is churches NOT acting like business in the realm of knowing how/where the money is spent. Like mostly with small churches where you have maybe a volunteer treasurer and a skeleton staff - like our church - who is checking to make sure we have the best and most cost efficient phone service/insurance/copier service/etc? It's very important to streamline stuff like this and keep up with the times in order to be a good steward of the finances.

Posted by: Abbey | Nov 19, 2005 10:05:34 AM

A little boy and his folks attended church and as they ate lunch they were talking about the church services. The parents did nothing but complain about everything. Then the turned to him and said Buddy what do you think about. Well he said I thought it was a pretty good show for a nicke.Always remember this folks. Wet birds never fly at night...
What a nickel brings is what a nickel brings, if it brings a nickel it is a nickel.If it had been 5cent worth it is 5cents worth.

Posted by: Evangelist Jeff | Nov 19, 2005 10:17:28 AM

Does the bible want us to give more to the church to build more expensive building, new uniforms for the choir and baseball team, or support a middle class to rich clergy lifestyle? They’re a just a few passages in the bible in regards to supporting the church but hundreds in reference to supporting the poor. God wants us to give as much as we can to the real church which is not a building or organization. Support missionaries and the poor!

Posted by: Pastor Jim | Nov 26, 2005 12:00:59 AM

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