In Brian Kluth’s 2016 State of the Plate giving report, he shared that 59% of churches experienced declining of flat-lined giving in 2015—and 20% experienced a decline of 5% or more. Seeing how church expenses and opportunities for benevolence are only increasing, this represents a real problem.
Let us look at some reasons that people are not giving to churches and explore some ways we can address those obstacles.
1. Distrust of church priorities
Giving requires a sacrifice. It can be more difficult for people to decide to give if it feels like money is spent too easily and frivolously. The moment people start questioning how money is spent, they will justify withholding their support—or they might feel like enough money is coming in that their meager offering will not be missed.
Overcoming this obstacle: Be careful not to assume that people are just going to give no matter how they feel—even if they have been historically faithful givers. As you know, people’s perspective of things is not always accurate. They might not have a clear understanding of an expenditure that the board has agonized over for months.
That is why it is important to keep the church’s vision in front of people. If you have to make big purchases, do your best to get people on board and help them see how the decisions regarding purchases are made, and how they coincide with your mission.
2. They do not hear about giving enough
Pastors are notoriously uncomfortable talking about giving. Topics like finances, giving, and generosity do not come up as often as they should. Jesus talked about finances all the time, and this was with first-century individuals who had next to nothing. It is a real problem if we are nervous about addressing finances in a much more affluent society.
Money represents a real stronghold in our culture, and people need to be regularly challenged to see their resources differently.
Overcoming this obstacle: Find ways to teach about giving regularly. In fact, talk about more often than you feel comfortable. Try and do a series once a year or approach the topic of generosity in various ways once a quarter. Get those dates on the calendar early in the year.
Try and follow Jesus’ example. You can always use financial metaphors to discuss spiritual truths. This will help your congregation see the connection between spirituality and their behavior.
3. Churches are too focused on cash and checks
Even though most churches offer digital-giving solutions, they tend to remain focused on passing the plate. Unfortunately, most people do not carry a lot of cash on them anymore. A Federal Reserve study found that between 2000 and 2012, the number of checks people wrote declined by more than 50%. If you are still prioritizing physical currency, it is probably impacting your offerings.
Overcoming this obstacle: In the State of the Plate report, only 14% of people wanted envelopes in the pew for giving, but 54% wanted mobile giving options. It is time to start prioritizing those solutions. You do not have to stop collecting offerings, but start putting the focus on digital giving.
4. They do not see the good they are doing
People want to give, but they want to see how their giving is making a difference. It is a lot less inspiring to feel like giving is merely maintaining the status quo. To see the good that comes from your giving is one of the biggest blessings of generosity—if people cannot see how they are making a difference, they will often look for opportunities to give elsewhere.
Overcoming this obstacle: Look for ways to highlight the connection between giving and growth. Talk up positive changes happening in the church and community because of church generosity. When you have a ministry or outreach that goes well, make sure to help people see how their open-handedness enabled church accomplishments. When your church members see the good they are doing (and feel the church is grateful for what they have to offer), they will be compelled to give more.
5. The apologetics of generosity
Sometimes church expectations get in the way of natural growth. We assume that all people need is a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and they will fall in line, but discipleship does not always work that way—especially when it comes to stewardship.
Martin Luther once wisely remarked that the Christian goes through three conversions: the conversion of the heart, mind, and purse. As is the case with a conversion of the heart or the mind, a transformation of the purse requires that we remove as many hurdles as possible and allow people to wrestle with the truth.
The better we understand people’s struggles and objections, the easier it is to communicate the blessing of generosity. Think of it like financial apologetics. We are describing the joys of benevolence while helping people get over the mental and emotional hurdles.
The Holy Spirit will use these conversations to convict and draw people, and it is so exciting when the light finally comes on, and people discover the life that comes from generosity!
Do Not Avoid the Topic
As you can see from these examples, the best way to address the issue of tithes and offerings in the church is with openness and transparency. If people have wrong ideas about the church, it is time to address those misconceptions. Let them see the safeguards you have in place to protect the church from fraud and mismanagement.
Consistent, healthy teaching on the topic of Christian stewardship can go a long way to reverse some of the negative feelings people have toward addressing money in the church. In the end, the more exposure people have to good teaching, the less uncomfortable we have to be about bringing it up.