By Helen Gibson
Throughout the Bible, God’s people are encouraged to live generously. But what do most Christians really believe when it comes to sharing their time and resources?
A recent report from Barna illustrates the beliefs of pastors and churchgoers on volunteering and financial giving. According to the report, these two groups have some differing beliefs about what it means to be generous.
Volunteering and Financial Giving: Interchangeable Acts?
Many churchgoers seem to see volunteering and financial giving as interchangeable acts. Almost half (47 percent) said it’s OK for church members to volunteer for their church instead of giving financially, according to Barna’s report.
If you ask a pastor, however, you might get a different answer. Only 9 percent of pastors said it’s OK for members to volunteer for the church instead of giving a tithe or an offering, while 85 percent said they either somewhat or strongly disagree.
Barna suggests that what comes from the pulpit on Sunday morning may contribute to church member’s beliefs about generosity. Their research found that 62 percent of pastors or church leaders speak from the pulpit about volunteering at least once a month, while 39 percent speak about financial generosity on a monthly basis.
A Lifeway Research study also asked pastors how often they preach on financial giving.
In that study, two-thirds of Protestant senior pastors said they preached on tithing at least once in the past year. However, 9 percent said they’d preached on tithing in the last month, and 1 in 5 said they’d never taken on the topic from the pulpit.
The Lifeway Research study also found that while most Protestant churchgoers say the Bible commands them to give, they may have differing views about what it means to tithe — or exactly how much they should tithe.
“If pastors’ own messages seem to prioritize acts of service over financial giving, it’s not too surprising that people in their pews highly value volunteer hours, even as an appropriate substitute for a monetary gift,” Barna says.
To bridge this gap, Barna suggests that pastors focus on the importance of both forms of generosity in their sermons.
“Whether or not pastors think the two are interchangeable, they would do well to focus on both forms of generosity, as data highlights a strong link between serving and financial giving,” according to Barna’s analysis.
“Generous Christians are Simply Generous”
However, those who are giving the most may already see the importance of both volunteering and financial giving.
Barna points to a particular finding that shows those who give the most financially are also the most likely to say they’ve volunteered in the past week or month. This is the same for Christians who consider generosity extremely important, the study notes.
“In other words, Christians prone to participate in one type of giving aren’t looking to get a pass on the other,” Barna’s analysis says. “Whether giving of money or of time, generous Christians are simply generous.”
Somewhat similarly, the Lifeway Research study found those who attend church more frequently are also more likely to give financially.
Among those who attend services at least once a week, more than half (57 percent) tithe, according to Lifeway Research. However, those who attend church only once or twice a month tithe almost half as much (28 percent).
“The more churchgoers attend services, the more likely they are to tithe,” noted a Facts & Trends article announcing the findings.
Volunteering as an Act of Generosity
Those who’ve volunteered recently are also more likely to see volunteering as a generous act, according to Barna.
While 23 percent of those who never volunteered said volunteering is an act of generosity, Barna found more than twice as many (55 percent) of those who had volunteered within the last week described volunteering as a generous act.
What are the most generous things a person can do? Barna asked respondents to select the three acts they consider to be the most generous.
Taking care of the sick (67 percent), volunteering for an organization (52 percent), and signing up to be an organ donor (30 percent) were among the most popular responses to this question — meaning respondents saw these activities as being the most generous.
Those were followed by:
- Giving $40 to a homeless person (26 percent)
- Talking to or smiling at a stranger (21 percent)
- Donating $40 to an organization (20 percent)
- Helping someone move (17 percent)
- Giving $40 to a church (15 percent)
- Babysitting for free (13 percent)
- Teaching Sunday school (13 percent)
- Driving someone to the airport (6 percent).
HELEN GIBSON (@_HelenGibson_) is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.