Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why Aren't American Christians More Generous?


A friend of mine recently recommended a book called Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money.  While this book isn’t a real fun read (it reads much more like sociology than your typical book on church) I am finding that it offers a lot of interesting insights on Christian financial giving.  Passing the Plate is crammed with detailed statistics on giving that account for religious denominational affiliation and economic status going back to the 1920’s.  The conclusions reached by the authors are that American Christians are not as generous as one might expect.  The statistics give a picture that around 25% of Christians give nothing at all to churches and the overwhelming majority of Christians only give in the range of 2.5 to 4 percent of their income to church or charities annually. 

Self-identified Christians in America represent a huge chunk of income--somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 Trillion dollars annually.  With this in mind, the authors of this book make the case that if Christians across the board would give just a little bit more of their income it would have some amazing consequences not simply for churches in America but for helping end hunger, bringing fresh water to villages that have no access to fresh water, Bible scholarship and translation, community outreach programs and certainly new missions initiatives to reach the unreached all over the world (just to name a few of the beneficiaries). 

Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson, the authors of this book look into nine different hypotheses as to why there is such a gap between disposable income and giving by American Christians.  While I won’t go into their hypotheses or their conclusions at the moment, I would like to get your thoughts on why Christians don’t give more. 

So here are a few questions to wrestle with today:
  1. What have been your biggest barriers to giving as a Christian – debt, living from paycheck to paycheck, distrust of churches and charitable organizations, or some other reason?
  2. Why do you think that American Christians don’t give more of their money away?
  3. How can pastors and those who work for non-profit charities address these realities in a way that is not manipulative or whiney, but redemptive?
  4. Finally, how does theology (beliefs about God) play into the way Christians spend their money?

2 comments:

Pi Man said...

1. What have been your biggest barriers to giving – debt, living from paycheck to paycheck, distrust of churches and charitable organizations, or some other reason?

*In the past, we did not tithe b/c we were not living for God and b/c we feared that we wouldn’t be able to pay the rest of our bills. We rationalized that we could not afford it. The key word there is “fear.” Certainly selfishness was king at that time. (Now he’s just a pawn in the kingdom… most of the time.) Now our entire tithe does not go to the local church, though it does go to worthy Christian causes.*

2. Why do you think that American Christians don’t give more of their money away?

*In addition to what I said in #1, I do think that there is not only a distrust of how the monies might be used, but also a cynicism in general that when coupled with that distrust, makes for quite a formidable foe. Add to that all the entities that actively solicit and compete for your money and it can get overwhelming quite quickly.*

3. How can pastors and those who work for non-profit charities address these realities in a way that is not manipulative or whiney, but redemptive?

*I think that all you can do is lay the facts out there, be as transparent as prudently possible, and communicate the results (what is accomplished with funds) as much as they communicate the need. I’m a big believer that if you approach your congregation with a need, and then empower them to meet that need, they will. The question of frequency is another issue. (Now, I don’t want to imply that every need has to be met that way. Certainly faith in the face of doubt has its place. I just think there is a time and a place for both.)*

4. Finally, how does theology (beliefs about God) play into the way Christians spend their money?

*This is a good question. You may recall that you and I talked about tithing in general one time. I think it falls into one of three categories: a) no knowledge/understanding of the tithe; b) limited/misunderstanding of it or c) understanding and practicing it. Certainly no one wants to be guilted into it. I mean, if that’s the case, how can one be a “cheerful giver”? So education is probably key here, along with faith and prayer of course.*

Peter said...

Hmm, to answer your first question, for me I didn't give because of fear. Like, God had to actually prove himself that this was, indeed, a good idea. And he does that over and over. Two quick stories:

The first time I ever seriously tithed was in college. I felt like God told me to start tithing for my benefit. "How much?" I replied. "$200," was the sense I got. And it was all I had left! Food, supplies, etc. But I decided to give it a shot (why not?), and later that week I got an unexpected check in the mail for $200. Dang.

My wife started a new business and felt like God told her to start tithing from her business account. Tough times, especially given a lull she's experienced in business lately. Well, she tithed last Sunday, and every day since then this week she's made approx 2-4 sales a DAY (huge for her!).

So, you know, I'm sure we've still got things to learn about it, but God seems intent on proving to us that it's in our interest to tithe.