By Marissa Postell
Generosity is a mark of the Christian life, but most Christians are missing the mark.
A study from Lifeway Research found that 83% of American churchgoers say tithing is a biblical command that still applies today, but for many years, there has been debate among Christians about what a tithe is—how much and to whom it should be given.83% of American churchgoers say tithing is a biblical command that still applies today, but there remains a debate about what a tithe is—how much and to whom it should be given. Click To Tweet
According to the research, 56% of Protestant pastors who say tithing is a biblical mandate define a tithe as 10% of a person’s gross income. Another 17% of these pastors define a tithe as 10% of one’s net income. Still other pastors said a tithe is whatever amount a person regularly sets aside to give (11%), whatever amount a person actually gives (7%), or another percentage of income (1%). Six percent of these pastors said none of these were the correct definition of tithing, and 3% said they weren’t sure.
Fewer than half of churchgoers (46%) said only giving to the church counts for tithing. While 98% of churchgoers said money from tithes can go to their church, nearly half (48%) said tithing funds can go to a Christian ministry. Another 35% said tithes can go to another church, and 34% said tithes can go to an individual in need.
Although the question of how much to tithe and where to tithe has been ongoing for many years, a recent study from Grey Matter Research and Consulting and Infinity Concepts examining the generosity in evangelical communities suggests these should not be the only questions. The research found that tithing in any form is rarely practiced. Only 13% of evangelicals give anything close to a tithe.Only 13% of evangelicals give anything close to a tithe, and 26% of evangelicals gave nothing to the church in the past year, according to Grey Matter. Click To Tweet
While most evangelicals give to a church (74%) or a charity (58%), 19% of evangelicals give no money at all to church or charity. Looking specifically at church giving in the last year, researchers found that 26% of evangelicals gave nothing to church.
This shouldn’t be surprising given that 20% of evangelical Protestants typically attend church less than once a month (9%) or not at all (11%). Overall, evangelicals who go to church are much better givers than unchurched evangelicals. Eighty-five percent of evangelicals who attend church at least once a month give to the church.
But not only are unchurched evangelicals less likely to give to church, they are also less likely to give to charity. According to the report, “the more involved evangelicals are in their faith in a variety of ways, the more likely they are to give to both church and charity.”The more involved evangelicals are in their faith in a variety of ways, the more likely they are to give to both church and charity, according to Gray Matter. Click To Tweet
Whether this faith involvement comes in the form of Bible reading, church attendance, online Bible study participation, or small group attendance, the people who engaged in these practices regularly were more likely to give to church and to charity than those who engaged in these practices irregularly or not at all.
How much do evangelicals give?
Although 81% of evangelical Protestants give at least some money to church or charity, there is a wide range in how much they give. The average evangelical gave $1,923 to church and $622 to charity over the past 12 months, averaging $2,545 total giving in a year. A few large givers, however, can skew the average significantly higher. Because of this, median giving can be a more accurate reflection of “typical” givers. Over the last year, the median evangelical gave $350 to church and $50 to charity, for a total of $390.Over the last year, the median evangelical gave $350 to church and $50 to charity, according to Grey Matter. Click To Tweet
Just as evangelicals who were more involved in their faith were more likely to give, these evangelicals are also more likely to give higher amounts—to both church and charity. Overall, the study shows a significant difference between those who regularly participate in spiritual activities and those who rarely or never do.
Among evangelicals, the average total amount given to church and charity is higher for those who study the Bible online at least monthly (112%), those who participate in a small group at least monthly (159%), those who attend church at least monthly (306%), and those who read the Bible at least weekly (399%) than for those who rarely or never participate in these practices.
What needs to change?
If generosity is a mark of the Christian life, why are so many Christians missing the mark, and how can pastors and church leaders disciple Christians to give generously?
Perhaps offering another class or preaching another sermon about financial stewardship isn’t the push that most evangelicals need in order to give and live generously. After all, if they don’t love God, Scripture, and the church, a sermon on stewardship will not likely be very convincing for them. Perhaps instead, the typical evangelical first needs guidance and encouragement to become a more active participant in their faith. The research suggests generous giving organically emerges from active participation in faith practices. When people take their faith seriously, they live and give differently.The research suggests generous giving organically emerges from active participation in faith practices. When people take their faith seriously, they live and give differently. — @marissapostell Click To Tweet
Disciple your church members to walk faithful Christian lives and watch them grow into generous givers. It’s more work and takes more time than teaching a financial stewardship class or preaching a sermon on giving, but cultivating faithful disciples who take their walk seriously has lasting impacts in your church, at home, and in the community.
And this discipleship doesn’t have to wait to begin in adulthood. A study from Lifeway Research found that people who grew up regularly practicing spiritual disciplines were more likely to be faithful adults, displaying spiritual health in adulthood. Young adults who regularly read the Bible while growing up had higher spiritual health than otherwise comparable individuals who did not read the Bible regularly as a child. When consistent discipleship and spiritual practices can begin in childhood and carry into adulthood, not only may churches find they have more generous givers, but they may also see a decrease in the gap in giving between the youngest and oldest evangelicals.
Besides discipleship over time, research also shows the significance of offering online giving, making giving more easily accessible for churchgoers—especially in the time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to a Faith Communities Today (FACT) report, “just having online giving, no matter how much it was emphasized, increased per capita giving of regular participants by $300 per person annually.”
Although there are many factors to consider when examining generosity among evangelicals, it is evident evangelicals are not as generous as they tend to believe they are. And the solution to this generosity deficit may come more through discipleship in the Christian faith rather than through direct pushes for increased giving in the church. Generosity is a mark of the Christian life, and Christians don’t have to miss the mark.
Marissa Postell Sullivan
Marissa is the managing editor for LifewayResearch.com.