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Monday, March 13, 2006

NEW STUDY: How Pastors AND Congregations Feel About Tithing

TitheTwo studies were conducted on church stewardship by Ellison Research (Phoenix, Ariz.).  One was a representative sample of 811 Protestant church ministers nationwide, and the other was a companion survey of 1,184 people who attend Protestant churches at least once a month.

In the study, 56 percent of all clergy say Christians are under a biblical mandate to tithe 10 percent of their income to the local church, while another 12 percent feel Christians are under this 10 percent mandate, but the gifts do not necessarily have to go to the local church.  Twenty percent believe there is a biblical mandate to give, but not any specific amount or percentage. 

However, among the people who attend Protestant churches, only 36 percent feel there is a biblical command to tithe 10 percent to their local church, while another 23 percent believe there is a biblical mandate to tithe, but not necessarily to the local church.  Twenty-seven percent feel the Bible commands Christians to give, but not a set proportion or amount, while 10 percent believe Christians are under no mandate to give anything. 

Among both clergy and laity, Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, and people from other Baptist denominations are the ones most likely to believe in tithing to the local church, while Presbyterians, Methodists, and Lutherans are the denominational groups least likely to hold this opinion.

Among people who do believe in tithing (whether to the local church specifically or to any type of organization), an ongoing debate is whether the 10 percent should be figured on gross income or on net income (after taxes).  Churchgoers who believe in tithing are equally split over this, with 48 percent believing the tithe should be figured on net income, and 52 percent saying it should be on gross income.  Clergy fall much more into the “gross income” camp (72 percent, versus 28 percent who believe the tithe should be calculated on net income).

The study also found that most people – both clergy and laity – believe that Christians’ giving does not have to be limited to religious causes or organizations.  Just 3 percent of clergy and 1 percent of laity feel that Christians should only support Christian causes.  Three out of ten clergy and one out of ten churchgoers feel Christians should give preference to Christian causes or organizations in their giving, and another third of each group feel Christians should support Christian causes when they can, but should be free to support non-religious organizations when there is no religious equivalent (such as cancer research or animal welfare). 

One-third of all clergy, and a majority of all churchgoers (55 percent), feel Christians should be free to support any type of cause or organization, regardless of whether it has a religious connection. 

In fact, ministers and laity are equally likely to have supported a non-religious cause or organization in the last year.  Fifty-seven percent of each group have given money to an organization with no religious connections in the last 12 months.

Finally, the studies evaluated what types of causes and organizations church leaders and churchgoers have actually supported through donations in the last 12 months. 

With the plethora of natural disasters over the last year, it’s probably no surprise that the number one category for both laity and ministers is disaster relief.  Eight out of ten ministers and 54 percent of laity have personally supported an organization working in disaster relief in the last year. 

Among pastors, there is a clear hierarchy of causes.  After disaster relief come three others that are very popular:  evangelism (66 percent), denominational causes or programs (51 percent), and specific schools, colleges, or universities (49 percent).  Eight other types of causes or organizations have received donations from between one-fifth and one-third of all pastors:  literature (such as Bibles and tracts), international poverty relief and development, domestic poverty relief and development, health (such as medical research and hospitals), educational causes, broadcast stations or ministries, political causes or organizations, and social/moral causes (such as pornography, supporting or opposing abortion).

Five other types of causes are less popular among clergy, finding financial support from fewer than 20 percent:  individual political candidates, veterans’ causes, cultural (such as museums or the opera), the environment, and animal welfare.

There are substantial differences between what evangelical and mainline Protestant ministers support out of their own pockets.  Evangelicals are more likely than mainline ministers to contribute to evangelism, literature, and social/moral issues.  Mainline Protestants are more likely than evangelicals to have supported disaster relief, denominational programs, specific schools, international and domestic poverty relief, health, education, the environment, and cultural issues.

The people in the pews, on average, have supported fewer causes outside of their own church over the past year than have their church leaders.  In fact, disaster relief is the only cause to have received donations from a majority of Protestants who attend church.  Second to disaster relief among laity is evangelism (33 percent), followed by veterans’ causes, denominational programs, health, and educational causes (all supported by 20 percent or more in the past year). 

Virtually all clergy in this study have financially supported their own church in the past year.  And for the typical churchgoer, a majority of the money they give does go to their local church.  On average, Protestants estimate 69 percent of their giving in the last year went to their church, while 31 percent went to organizations outside of their church.

Two percent of all clergy and 16 percent of all churchgoers say they have not financially contributed to any organizations (outside of their local church) in the last year. 

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, noted the irony in some of the findings.  “What’s really sad is that six out of ten churchgoers told us they believe the Bible commands them to tithe 10 percent or more of their incomes, yet other studies have consistently shown that under one out of ten actually do that,” Sellers said.  “In other words, at least half of all Protestants are clear on what they believe they’re supposed to be giving, but consistently don’t give it.”

Sellers also noted that Christian organizations and ministries need to understand that many religious people are supporting non-religious organizations.  “When we work with individual charitable organizations, there’s often an assumption that Christians support Christian ministries over non-religious organizations,” he said.  “This study conclusively shows that assumption to be false, and that in fact over half of all Protestant churchgoers don’t even give any preference to Christian organizations in their giving decisions.  It’s critical that Christian organizations really understand this about their target market,” Sellers stated. 

From EllisonResearch.com

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March 13, 2006 in Church Finances | Permalink

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There are some very interesting findings here (though none particularly surprising to me). I can hardly wait to see some of the feedback generated! I find particularly noteworthy what Ron Sellers noted: “...at least half of all Protestants are clear on what they believe they’re supposed to be giving, but consistently don’t give it." (Guilty)

The other thing I find intriguing is this whole concept of tithing on gross versus net income. For the 59% who believe that the tithe is still binding on Christians, isn't the gross versus net question very much like the old (yet still current) Jewish question of how far you can walk on the Sabbath before it becomes work? And for the 41% who don't believe the tithe is binding...well, I hope they're not having the gross/net argument!

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 13, 2006 12:52:10 PM

I would love to see this survey done on seminary professors. From my experience, they know much more about tithing (biblical basis, history, etc.) and are more apt to know why it doesn't make sense for Christians to be tithing today (instead, they should be stewards, managing all their money as if it is God's, because it is). Think Baptists believe in tithing? Ask their professors... I think you'll get a different answer from them than you will from Pastors who are more apt to just repeat what they've heard, and have a conflict of interest since they also want the tithe for themselves.

I also have soime articles posted this week at my blog on this issue.


Posted by: Bernie of FreeGoodNews.com | Mar 13, 2006 3:10:17 PM

Thanks for the article. I bet this statistic shocks a lot of people:
"56 percent of all clergy say Christians are under a biblical mandate to tithe 10 percent of their income to the local church." Many (most?) of those who teach tithing think it is universally accepted within Christianity.

I wonder if Catholics were also included in this poll?


Posted by: Bernie of FreeGoodNews.com | Mar 13, 2006 3:14:23 PM

It seems to me that if one is trying to decide if one should figure 10% of gross or 10% of net, perhaps one should sell all one has to the poor and store up treasures in heaven.

Posted by: rev-ed | Mar 13, 2006 3:20:27 PM

I wonder if those who don't give to their local church are not giving because they don't see a church worth giving to. Why give so that the church can buy more red carpet or one more bigger better thing. I think the emerging generation wants to see that the money actually helps the poor.

Posted by: eric | Mar 13, 2006 3:33:31 PM

I am not surprised by the findings of this study. My experience, my feelings, my being compared to what others are doing. . . Why is no one asking tithing according to what text? Is not the first 'prescriptive text' Deuteronomy 14.22-29? Is not this text an OT 'red letter' thus says the Lord text? Who among us is setting aside 10% of what we actually make (after the government takes their share) and going to the place God says and celebrating, if you will 'eating their tithe'? Who among us is setting aside the 10% every third year in a storehouse for those who have no means of an income (priests/aliens/orphans/widows) and faithfully giving the entire 10% every third year out from the storehouse? (the failure to faithfully practice this 3 year cycle was what Malachi was talking about in his prophecy. Israel was celebrating every year and not putting the third year's tithe aside for those who had no means of support) Who among us is bold enough, and man enough to prove in practice that their local congregations coffers are the storehouse for faithfully storing our every third year's tithe and are giving the fruits of the tithe to those in whom God instructed us to give? Show me that congregation, and I will give them 10% every third year. On a personal note, don't respond to this posting unless you have read the Deuteronomy text and are able to understand the English language. (if you will, what the text says, is what the text means)

Posted by: Jim | Mar 13, 2006 4:12:24 PM

eric - [give to the local church ... not worth giving to]

I did just that last year, gave 3x outside the church then inside (including one whole month of take home pay - net - to Samaritians purse to help those struck be storms as I couldn't be there to help in person) after I stopped giving to the local church all together. I'm now at another church and I'm we started giving the first week we were there.

I don't want to limit myself to think that 10% is adequate when I have so much more to give (sometimes) and I don't want to feel as a lessor brother when I was unemployed and not able to give much of anything.

If a couple on unemployment or underemployed systematically skips lunch on the weekend and takes the funds they would have spent and gives it to the lord - even if it doesn't even make 1% of their income, to me, is far more pleasing then the people who have the means to meet ministry needs but don't because 'they have done their 10% part'.

Although what disturbs me the most, even if I'm not a supporter of the tithe, is that people claim to see tithing 10% of their income (net or gross) as something they should do to please God and that so many of them don't. If that is what you believe you need to do to be closer to God and something that you do to please God, by all means, DO IT. (just don't think those who don't agree with you aren't 'true' Christians if they don't do the same or they are 'robbing from God' or 'bad stewards')

Posted by: Paul Davis | Mar 13, 2006 4:32:06 PM


I think I'm done with your blog. It's frustrating to make a post with links (takes some time) then you delete it without even a word. What a waste of time...


Posted by: Bernie of FreeGoodNews.com | Mar 13, 2006 4:40:45 PM


Sorry to see you leave if you feel you have to go. However, to be fair, I believe I have expressed quite openly that I don't want every blog post to come down to TD Jakes, John Hagee and whatever crusade you're on at the moment (always with a link to your blog). The post I deleted went on about TD Jakes being a millionaire, him lining his pockets, etc.

Just as with BeHim, whose mantra is "Sound Doctrine"... I appreciate your input and insights, but please don't make every post about the same dag-gone thing.

Hope you'll stay. If not, it's been a fun ride. :)


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 13, 2006 4:46:14 PM

[Just as with BeHim, whose mantra is "Sound Doctrine"... I appreciate your input and insights, but please don't make every post about the same dag-gone thing.]

I wonder is this a bad "mantra" to have? ;)

Posted by: BeHim | Mar 13, 2006 5:22:21 PM

Didn't say it was a 'bad' mantra. But I don't want every post about the same thing.

If it all comes down to the same thing for you, BeHim, (and I think it does); then you'll just have to restrain yourself. That doesn't mean that I don't think your 'mantra' it's important; but I do expect that you and others will honor my request and wishes. When you post here, you agree to these rules. You don't have to like the rules, but I hope that you'll respect them.

'Cause here, I'm the Sheriff! :)


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 13, 2006 5:26:48 PM

Sorry for that interruption... now back to the topic of the tithing study...



Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 13, 2006 5:28:01 PM


I think the way "tithing" is presented today is more of a "work" for religious approval then an act of Love to God.

It is amazing to me that while we deride any kind of “work” to receive the blessings of God, giving money to the church is conspicuously left out of this list?

While this might not be the best place to discuss the relevancy of “tithing” under the New Covenant, notice I didn’t say giving, it is interesting to note that many of those who proclaim tithing as a great act of faith, display little faith in the Spirit moving on his people to give as He sees fit.

Pastor Al

Posted by: Pastor Al | Mar 13, 2006 5:51:47 PM

Well, the church does need to be financed somehow. Tithing was under the "Old Covenant" and, yes, Jesus did speak about tithing. After that...it gets a little grey. Since we are under grace, and not under the law, we encourage giving as God blesses and from the heart. We use the tithe as a standard or goal. Not every new believer can give 10 percent (before or after net).

As a pastor, I settled the argument long ago about the net or gross. I tithe from my gross and my tithe is above the goal of 10 percent. This was a process. We teach that it is part of our worship to give back to God. I believe that giving to the church should be the priority but one can give over and above to other ministries as led by the Spirit and carefully discerned.

My wife and I tithe to our church. We pray each year to seek to support other ministries the Lord leads us to. God has given us the grace and resources to do so.

I find that example in giving teaches more than a legalistic approach. My goal is to be like the widow who gave her all - two mites worth - to the Lord.

Just my "two mites" worth.


Posted by: Dan Moore | Mar 13, 2006 6:12:58 PM

When I was first saved I did what many new believers do... I put a few bucks in the plate as it passed by. After a while though I wanted to understand more about tithing. My pastor told me that God was more concerned with faithful giving than an inconcistant tithe. I still agree with his advice.

I often hear pastors say that if everyone tithed the church wouldn't have budget problems, but I disagree.

I believe that God has given every church, no matter the size, the adequate resources it needs. This includes money, voluteers and what ever else it needs to function properly. The key to having what we need is to know what God has called us to.


Posted by: Ed Mooneyhan | Mar 13, 2006 6:57:27 PM

I might be one of the strange ones that think their tithe should go to their home church.If you eat at Denny's every Sunday or what ever day you go there then Denny's is where you need to give your money.You should"nt send your money to the red lobster just because its a nicer place.Give your tithe where you get fed. If you want to give offerings to other ministries that fine also.Give your alms to who ever you fell led to.Just my thoughts on this topic John

Posted by: john | Mar 13, 2006 8:12:18 PM

The most thorough treatment of tithing that I have ever read is a book entitled, "Should the Church Teach Tithing: A Theologian's Conclusion About a Taboo Doctrine" by Russell Earl Kelly, PhD. You can read more about this and even download the book in its entirety from this website http://www.shouldthechurchteachtithing.com/

It has more in depth research, honest hermeneutic and plain common sense than anything else I have heard or read on the subject. My understanding of New Covenant giving is that of whole life stewardship (management) rather than legal religious taxation. You can call the notion of tithing anything you want to, but it is clearly an old covenant tax assessed on some (NOT ALL) Israelites for the purpose of providing for the temple priesthood.

If you are intrigued, you can read more in the book I recommended.

Posted by: Dean | Mar 13, 2006 8:58:42 PM

Dean - you hit it out of the park. Yes..tithing was the taxation system of old Israel. Total life stewardship is definitely New Testament doctrine. Maybe we ought to change the word "tithe" to "investment" and teach people to invest in the Kingdom....just a thought.

Posted by: Dan Moore | Mar 13, 2006 10:58:10 PM

Looks like the sheriff is cleaning out the town...

Posted by: Jay Gainer | Mar 14, 2006 12:12:53 AM

I like Erwin McManus' little bit on tithing when someone asked him if his church was a "grace" church or a "law" church.

He said bascially that no, no, of course you don't have to tithe 10%. You can give 11, 12, 15, 20, whatever percentage you want...


Posted by: Peter Hamm | Mar 14, 2006 8:35:30 AM

Just a personal note - 10% is a spiritual threshold for me. Beyond 10%, and I don't have to worry about money. If I give less than 10%, I find I'm not free to not worry about money.

So perhaps there's something going on in the spiritual realms? Money is the only god Jesus ever compared to God ("you can't serve both God and Mammon"). I think that's because Money claims to be the yardstick by which we judge everything else - it's the only idol I'm aware of that can legitimately make that claim. And Money has a definite paradigm - "Get as much as you can get for as little as you can give" - directly opposed to God's paradigm, "Freely you have received, freely give." Giving cash away without getting anything in return - treating it the way God does rather than Money does - is the only way I've found to break Money's hold on my emotions and decisions.

So my take is the 10% isn't legalism, but a recognition of what really goes on in my heart.

And FWIW, probably most of our hearts. If I'm arguing about tithing the Net vs. Gross, it's a pretty good sign that my giving hasn't yet reached the freedom threshold.

Posted by: Richard Griffin | Mar 14, 2006 2:31:08 PM

Great post Peter!

Posted by: Steve | Mar 14, 2006 2:33:11 PM

My wife and I are co-pastors of our church. We both also have full-time outside employment. We personally tithe 10% of our gross income from all sources. We teach tithing as a method for experiencing abundance. My question is this: As a church, we have always given to outside causes, but there has never been a concensus as to how much based on what percent of income from which source? My preference would be to set an example for the congregation by tithing a full 10% to worthy causes. But our board, like many of these postings, have very different opinions as to the the definition of a "tithe" and whether to base it on the church gross income from all sources, income from congregational giving, adding in fundraisers and classes, subtracting overhead (rent, utilities, salaries, etc). This is frustrating as it seems very clear to me that if the Board is unwilling to commit to tithing, it is doubtful that the congregation will either. We believe that prosperity consciousness flows from the top down.
I would value your input.

Posted by: Patrick | Apr 8, 2006 4:34:32 PM

What do you mean the church tithing? Our church gives 10 % of incoming tithe here and there for missions etc as mandated by our denomination. Is that what you mean?

Posted by: Jade | Apr 9, 2006 6:44:33 PM

Yes, that is what I mean. Good way of putting it, Jade, incoming vs. outgoing tithe. That would seem to indicate that your church tithes based on your congregational offering (vs. net surplus after overhead or vs. gross income from all sources.)Is that so?

Posted by: Patrick | Apr 9, 2006 8:22:14 PM

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