Giving to Christian ministries in the United States continues to hold steady, but a tithe report suggests churches are receiving a smaller portion.
The 2017 State of Giving report from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EFCA) shows annual cash giving to ECFA-accredited organizations increased 2.2 percent between 2015 and 2016.
CHURCHES GETTING LESS OF THE PIE
ECFA members represent a wide variety of charitable religious endeavors. One category is local churches. According to the report, giving to that subset grew by 2.5 percent, down from a 3.1 percent increase the previous year.
By contrast, giving to ministries involved in literature publishing/distribution, adoption and camps/conferences grew considerably more: 13.2 percent, 11.4 percent and 10.1 percent respectively.
The downward spiral in donations to religious institutions may be leveling off after 30 years of decline. In 1987, churches received 53 percent of all charitable donations. In 2016, houses of worship received only 32 percent of all charitable giving according to Giving USA. The good news is that figure hasn’t changed for several years.
NONES AND MILLENNIALS
Reasons for the decline vary. One possibility is the shrinking number of Americans who identify with a particular religious group. According to the Pew Religious Landscape Study, nearly 23 percent of Americans selected the category “none” when asked about their religious affiliation. That’s a 16 percent increase in a decade.
Another theory is that millennials aren’t giving as much as previous generations. Sam Rainer, President of Rainer Research, says that’s because millennials are poorer than their parents. He partly blames college tuition costs that have tripled since 1980.
But ECFA’s own research shows 92 percent of millennials gave to their church in the past few years and are as likely to give if motivated.
IT’S THE ECONOMY, STILL
The economy may still be having an impact. A Lifeway Research Study showed that over half of Protestant pastors said their church offerings were still negatively impacted by the Great Recession. A church member who was out of work for an extended period of time may be reticent to resume giving out of fear he or she could be unemployed again.
Declining frequency of church attendance is also blamed. Church Growth expert Thom Rainer noted on his blog that the number one reason for decline in church attendance is members attending less frequently. He wrote, “This trend also affects offerings since some members only give when they are in worship services.”
There appears to be a declining interest in tithing. A recent Evangelical Leaders Survey found 76 percent of evangelical leaders said it was acceptable to give part of the tithe to ministries outside of the local church.
Responding to the findings, Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), said, “Giving to the local church is important. For most, it’s priority. At the same time, many evangelical leaders do not believe there’s a biblical requirement to give exactly 10 percent to the local church. Giving generously out of what God has done for us is the main message.”
A TIME FOR FAITH
If the ECFA report was represented as a dashboard, there would be a few yellow caution lights on the display. George Mueller was an evangelist and Director of the Ashley Down Orphanage in Bristol, England, in the mid 1800s. Although constantly short of money to fund his ministry, he managed to care for more than 10,000 orphans during his lifetime. He pointed out, “If this work is the work of God, then He is surely able and willing to provide for it.”
While changes in culture and behaviors present financial challenges, Mueller reminds church leaders that He will meet their financial needs as they are faithful in ministry.