Giving to the church is in decline but the reason why might surprise you. The definitive study on church giving is done by empty tomb, inc. out of Champaign, Ill. Every year they release a thorough study of giving to the church called, “The State of Church Giving.” So thorough is the report that it is typically recording giving almost two years ago. Recently they released the new version entitled, “The State of Church Giving Through 2010.” Some of their findings were ...
The proportion of income contributed to the church, as represented in Total Contributions, decreased from 3.11% to 2.40% in 2010, a decline of 23% from the 1968 base.
Overall, giving to Congregational Finances as a present of income decreased from 2.45% in 1968 to 2.06%, a decline of 16%.
If the same proportion of income had been given in 2010 as in 1968, aggregate Total Contributions would have been $29.2 billion rather than the actual amount given of $22.9 billion. That is a difference of $6.3 billion, or an increase of 28%.
There are many lessons to be learned by their data, but one of the most important is that the economy is not the real reason giving to the church is in decline. Giving has been in decline even during times of great economic growth in our country. So while the present economy has not made it any easier, it is not the reason some churches are struggling to make ends meet.
Why Giving to the Church is in Decline Here are some factors as to why we are seeing giving decline…
Church attendance is declining. Membership is in decline as well as church attendance. So it goes to figure that if people are not in the pews or chairs the church's opportunity to get dollars from them declines. A recent Pew Research Center report found that one in five American adults have no religious affiliation.
A generational shift is occurring. Older Americans give more to the church than their grandchildren. Yet that generation is moving off the stage. The new generation, if attending at all, typically gives less than their grandparents.
The Church is doing business as usual. The average church is blindly ignorant of the decline that is occurring around them. They keep doing what they have always done without realizing that the results are not the same.
The Church's giving platform is antiquated and obsolete. We have become a checkless and cashless society. How many checks a month do you write? Commerce in America today is electronic. Yet every week churches pass a plate, basket or bucket soliciting contributions. Only 14% of American churches have online giving. Our platform of giving does not match the way Americans like to give.
We gave up the high ground. Battles are often won by the force that first seizes and keeps the high ground. When it comes to giving, too many churches fear offending people and do a poor job of asking for donations. We are thus giving up the high ground.
Consider the Red Cross that asks all the time for money, and yet few, if anyone, complains that it is all they ever talk about. One reason why people give the Red Cross a break on continually asking for money is because we know how much they do with the funds they receive.
Yet think about all that the church does. Typically, in a crisis, the church is there ahead of the Red Cross as the church was already there. How does that happen? People give to support missions. The Red Cross tells their story to garner funds. The church needs to tell its story.
The sad reality is that churches don’t talk too much about moneythey don’t talk about it enough. Studies have shown that the typical preacher seldom talks of money.
When the church does talk about money, it often does it in a harmful way. You cannot guilt people into giving. Most know they should give. They need to hear why. Again, the church needs to tell its compelling story and watch as motivated people give to support a great cause.
Not long ago I was asked by a senior pastor of a leading church to help reverse a giving decline in his church. I met with his staff that clearly was not interested in meeting with me. So, I began the meeting by saying, “Last year giving to this church declined by 3%. That means your executive staff met in this room to consider putting off ministry and laying off employees. I am here to talk about how to reverse that and save your ministry and perhaps your job.” Suddenly I had their attention.
I then stated what I think is the key to increasing giving at any church. “Our goal,” I said, “is to make giving fun and easy.” The easy part they understood as we talked about how to ramp up online giving. The fun part was where they struggled. Then I explained. Giving is fun when I realize all that my gift does. Americans have always been the most generous people on the face of the earth when our hearts are touched. So our goal was to touch hearts with the story of all this church was accomplishing for the Kingdom. We told the story of changed lives. Seeing the impact their church was making helped motivate people to give.
Whether your church is large or small, you too can fight back the decline in giving. It takes effort. It will not simply happen on its own. Are you willing to do what it takes to make giving at your church fun and easy?