by Bob DasalGiving to churches is down and the Barna Research Group has just issued a report to help explain why. According to Barna the percentage of family units that tithe their income to their church (give at least 10% of their income) has plunged 62% in the past year. Tithers have decreased from 8% in 2001 to just 3% during 2002. The study shows members of evangelical churches are more likely to tithe than members of non-evangelical churches. While this group represents just 6% of the church population, nearly 9% of the group tithed in 2002, which is roughly three times the national average. Other groups with a higher percentage of people who tithe include college graduates, those over 55, middle-income individuals, political conservatives, those living in Southern states, and those who attend mainline Protestant churches.
The study also identified several groups that were highly unlikely to participate in tithing. These included Hispanics, liberals, households earning less than $20,000, Catholics, and parents who home-school their children. The report stated only one-tenth of one percent in these five identified segments tithed in 2002.
Asked about the reasons for this, George Barna pointed out the drop is due to a combination of factors. "Different challenges have caused people to choose not to tithe. For some, the soft economy has either diminished their household income or led to concerns about their financial security. For others the nation's political condition, in terms of terrorism and the war in Iraq, has raised their level of caution. The scandals involving Catholic priests last year reduced some people's confidence in church leaders and, consequently, reduced their giving as well."
Barna pointed out how demographic swings have affected church giving. "We are losing many of the people who have a habit of tithing-people in their sixties and beyond-while the proportion of homes headed by younger adults, who have never tithed and don't plan to, is growing. Also realize that the fastest growing group in the country is Hispanics, among whom very few give generously to their church."
Maybe, like me, you are surprised home-school households were listed as being unlikely to tithe. Research shows home-school households tend to have below-average household income levels and less disposable income. As for those who consider themselves political liberals, it's not surprising they are less likely to tithe since they give a bigger share of their donor dollars to non-religious non-profit organizations.
The study points out a major crisis for churches. How do they encourage their people to give a tithe (10% of their income)? Barna believes that to meet this crisis it's crucial for the church to teach people to make their life decisions based on a biblical worldview. Only when Christians understand the biblical principles of stewardship, and see themselves as stewards and not owners, will they practice the kind of giving lifestyle God wants His children to have.
The Barna Group also stresses that churches need to educate their people about their ministry and how their tithes are used to "do the work of the ministry." Showing how the church uses money efficiently, and demonstrating the life-changing impact of the church's ministry are essential in leading people to tithe.