There is not a lot of clarity about giving habits in the church. Pastors are often left wondering if what they experience in their own churches is unique to them. If you have ever looked at the giving in your church and wondered about the experiences in other churches—we have pulled together some significant tithing and generosity statistics to broaden your perspective.
Facts About Generational Giving
There is a lot of discussion around generational giving habits—particularly when it comes to Millennials. Some of the stories are more helpful and revealing than others. Here is what you need to know about the charitable habits of different generations in America.
The Greatest Generation
Born: Before 1945
Percent of the population: 11.8%
What percentage of this generation give: 88%
Percentage of total charitable giving: 26%
Average yearly gift: $1,367
Average number of charities supported: 6.2
Percent of the population: 23.6%
What percentage of this generation give: 72%
Percentage of total charitable giving: 43%
Average yearly gift: $1,212
Average number of charities supported: 4.5
Percent of the population: 20.4%
What percentage of this generation give: 59%
Percentage of total charitable giving: 20%
Average yearly gift: $732
Average number of charities supported: 3.9
Percent of the population: 25.9%
What percentage of this generation give: 60%–87%*
Percentage of total charitable giving: 11%
Average yearly gift: $481
Average number of charities supported: 3.3
*The Millennial Impact Report of 2014 suggest a much higher percentage of Millennial givers.
It is important to note that charitable giving stats include all church giving. The highest percentage of charitable giving still goes to churches and religious institutions, but that is quickly changing.
Boomers make up the second largest percentage of the population but are responsible for nearly half of all giving in the U.S. Since the youngest Boomers are still in their mid-50s, it is likely that they will be carrying the most significant burden for a while.
But as we lose the Greatest Generation (and the Boomer population begins to drop), churches need to be giving some thought to how they will reach out and communicate with Generation X and Millennials. The good news is that Millennials are already proving themselves to be a compassionate and giving generation. As they grow in their earning power, we can expect to see them becoming an essential donor base.
If you are interested in getting better understanding of the differences in giving norms, check out our post: Understanding Generational Giving Habits.
Christians and Tithing
The word tithe has become a messy one. A tithe is a tenth. In the Old Testament the tithe was established to meet the financial needs of ancient Israel. For many Christians the word tithe has come to represent any regular giving to the church.
There is a lot of discussion about what we should expect from Christians when it comes to giving. We are not under the Old Testament law, so many believe that expecting people to give 10% of their income is legalistic.
Randy Alcorn addresses this issue in Money, Possessions, and Eternity:
“Being under grace does not mean living by lower standards than the law. Christ systematically addressed such issues as murder, adultery, and the taking of oaths and made it clear that his standards were much higher than those of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:17–48). He never lowered the bar. He always raised it. But he also empowers us by his grace to jump higher than the law demands.”
Alcorn’s point is that under the law, Israelites were expected to give a certain percentage of their income. Followers of Christ see themselves as stewards or managers of God’s resources—everything they own is ultimately His. This means that 10% is not to be seen as the end of Christian giving, but rather the beginning.
When you see the word tithe in the following statistics, it represents consistent, volitional giving of 10% (or more) of one’s income.
247 million U.S. citizens identify as Christian—only 1.5 million tithe.
The truth about Old Testament giving is that the Mosaic covenant demanded much more than 10% of an Israelite’s income. Between the Levitical tithe (Leviticus 27:30–32; Numbers 18:21, 24), annual festival giving (Deuteronomy 14:22–27), and the tri-annual giving to the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28–29), Israelites gave upward of 23% of their earnings toward God’s work.
While the goal is not to promote legalism, American Christians are ripe for the challenge to dig deeper and give more sacrificially.
Only about 5% of churchgoers tithe.
(Church development, 2018)
It is easy to look at this statistic negatively, but we should not. The truth is that the church has been able to do a lot of good on the small amount that people are willing to give—and there is so much opportunity to encourage greater generosity!
There are many reasons people are not practicing generous giving. It is critical that pastors overcome the cultural anxieties that come with teaching on generosity and help congregants understand the joys and responsibilities of following Jesus.
Tithers are 40% less likely to owe significant debt.
(State of the Plate, 2013)
Consistent giving fosters a deeper understanding of stewardship. It encourages Christians to become intentional and thoughtful about their resources and ultimately impacts their financial health across the board.
When Christians decide to become serious about their giving, they often find that they are more responsible with 90% than they ever were with 100%. Statistics show that tithers are half as likely (20% vs. 40%) to be overdue on credit card payments and 28% of tithers are debt free.
If Christians tithed there would be an additional $165 billion available.
Writer Mike Holmes addresses what would happen if Christians were to start giving a minimum of 10%. According to Holmes, the $165 billion that would become available could be used this way:
- $25 billion could relieve global hunger and eliminate deaths from preventable diseases within five years
- $15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues—specifically in places where a majority of people live on less than $1 a day
- $12 billion could end illiteracy
- $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work
- $100–$110 billion would be left over for additional ministry expansion
That is obviously a pipe dream, but it is one worth having. The better we become at raising the awareness of the potential good that could be done when the church is committed to giving to God’s work, the more likely we will be at encouraging greater generosity.
The goal is not to motivate giving to maintain the status quo. We want to fuel more ministry and service. We want to reach more people with the good news of Jesus Christ and fuel more compassionate assistance.
Christian Giving Habits
“Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart.” —John Wesley
Wesley understood something about money that modern Christians tend to struggle with. Money worms its way into our hearts—its ultimate goal is our allegiance. Jesus said it this way: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
People making $20,000 a year are 8 times more likely to give than someone making an annual income of $75,000.
Everyone knows the odds of winning the lottery are terrible. But people still play because it allows them to daydream about winning—fantasy is the key to the lottery’s attraction. When people fantasize about what they would do with millions of dollars, they inevitably promise to give a large portion to the church or some charity.
But God does not really care about what we would do with the $100 we might get tomorrow. His concern is about the $5 in our pocket today. Understanding this principle is central to grasping stewardship. The truth is that those who have the least are typically the ones who give the most sacrificially. If someone is waiting to make more so that they can start giving more, it is probably not going to happen.
Here are a few reasons why:
- People with lower incomes recognize need: One rule of wealth is that it isolates you from poverty. As our income improves, we make decisions that improve our experience. We move to better neighborhoods. We shop in different stores. Ken Stern said it this way in an article for The Atlantic: “Wealthy people who lived in homogeneously affluent areas—areas where more than 40% of households earned at least $200,000 a year—were less generous than comparably wealthy people who lived in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings. It seems that insulation from people in need may dampen the charitable impulse.”
- As one’s income grows, the amount given has a bigger impact than the percentage: If someone makes $20,000, their tithe works out to about $38 a week. That does not feel like they are giving a lot—even though they are making a considerable sacrifice. If someone makes $1 million a year, 10% works out to nearly $2,000 a week. It is the same amount of sacrifice as the person tithing off of $20,000, but it feels like a lot. No matter how much money you have, there is still an emotional reaction to writing a check for a couple of thousand dollars. It is easy to justify giving a smaller percentage when you are giving so much more than everyone else—even when you are giving a smaller percentage of your actual income.
- Wealthier people are just as likely to live beyond their income: It does not really matter how much you make. We live in a culture that encourages us to live at (or above) our income level. Which means that people making a lot of money are just as likely to feel like they are living hand-to-mouth as someone making considerably less.
Close to 20% of American families have reduced the amount they give to the local church.
When our understanding of stewardship is out of alignment, we will naturally look at church giving as the area of our finances with the most wiggle room. When things get tight or difficult, it is one of the first places changes are made. In fact 7% of churchgoers have reduced their giving by 20% or more.
Debt hamstrings one-third of American Christians
If you do a Google search for the words “tithe” and “debt” you will find thousands upon thousands of articles addressing whether people should prioritize debt or church giving. One of the top questions Christians ask is, “Should we keep tithing to our church while trying to pay off our debts?”
The big takeaway here is that the church needs to do a lot more to educate their congregations about the dangers of consumer debt. In a culture that is always pushing people to live above their means, debt quickly becomes a generosity inhibitor.
America is full of Christians who need to be liberated from the snare of debt. Churches need to take this problem seriously. This means providing financial classes and counseling. Churches that become strategic and intentional about empowering their parishioners to make wise financial decisions see growth in their giving.
If you do not have financial classes available in your church, you should seriously consider it. That could be as simple starting a Sunday school class that goes through some financial curriculum. It is also important to provide help for church members who want to create a budget.
Religious giving has fallen 50% since 1990.
Of all charitable giving in the United States, most goes to churches and religious charities. But that amount has been falling for some time. This can be attributed to many factors, but the biggest reason has to be the growing number of people who do not identify as religious.
From 2007 to 2012, the religiously unaffiliated in the United States grew from around 15% to nearly 20%. Only about 7% of the unaffiliated identify as agnostic or atheist. Most have no beliefs in particular.
It is no coincidence that a drop in religious contributions corresponds to a falling interest in evangelism. ACFI research found that just 1 out of every 5 Christian adults (21%) felt any personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with those who held opposing beliefs. This helps contribute to the steady decline in church attendance.
A Religious News Service article discussed the decline of religion in America from 1952–2012. It is pretty alarming to see in graph form.
Obviously the goal of evangelism is not to increase the church’s income. But we do need to recognize the consequences of not prioritizing the Great Commission (Matthew 17:16–20). By not introducing people to Jesus (or not discipling those who decide to follow Jesus) we negatively impact the number of hands available to do the Lord’s work—and the resources available to accomplish it.
Jesus addresses this problem in Matthew’s gospel: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37–38).
It is important to understand the implication of this statement. The harvest is people. The workers available to do today’s labor were yesterday’s harvest. If there are not enough people available to do today’s work, the yield will suffer. This guarantees that there will not be enough workers for the next harvest. We can see the effect in this graph. Over time the impact becomes dramatic.
This kind of consistent diminished giving in the church is not necessarily a sign of growing selfishness among Christians. It is also a clear indicator that we are not putting enough emphasis on evangelism and discipleship. These two activities ensure that there are workers and resources for tomorrow’s work.
We have our work cut out for us
It is easy to get discouraged by looking at these giving statistics—but we should not. These numbers represent a lot of opportunity for growth. By making some strategic and intentional decisions about how we mentor and teach generosity, we can experience a pretty quick jump in giving.
Get started today by diving into different articles filled with daily habits to help people become more generous.