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:
- 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?
- Why do you think that American Christians don’t give more of their money away?
- 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?
- Finally, how does theology (beliefs about God) play into the way Christians spend their money?