While the tide of giving to churches rises at Easter, we know that it typically ebbs afterward. Giving to churches continues to decline, and the percentage of members who tithe is significantly less than the traditional percentage of the tithe itself: It hovers somewhere between 1.5% and 4%, judging by the most recent figures from a variety of sources.
The question for today is, why don’t people give more to their churches? And more to the point, what practical steps can churches take to inspire members to better financial stewardship and generosity?
When asked, people offer a number of reasons why they don’t give, or have reduced their giving, to the church, including:
• I don’t have a job. When employment and income drop, giving drops, as we saw during the last recession. While the jobless rate is better than it was, the underemployment rate — a combination of unemployed and part-time workers looking for full-time work — is still high at 13.9%.
• My personal finances could use some work. According to 2016 statistics, 38% of households carry credit card debt averaging about $16,000. That may make it difficult for many to meet basic needs, let alone give.
• I don’t go to church as much as I used to. Religious affiliation, practices and attendance all slipped from 2007 to 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. When people don’t attend, research shows that they don’t contribute.
• I want to give to other organizations that are important to me. Perhaps related to the decline in religious affiliation and attendance, people’s wallets follow their hearts: even though charitable contributions reached an all-time high in the United States last year, giving to churches continues to decline as a percentage of overall donations, according to Giving USA.
• I don’t really know how my church spends my money. If members don’t know where their contributions go, they may be less likely to give. This is not a new issue. As far back as 2007, The Wall Street Journal wrote, “. . . more churchgoers have questioned the way their churches spend money. Like other philanthropists today, religious givers want to see exactly how their donations are being used.”
While the economy is out of our hands, churches can and do tackle other factors that can limit giving. Offering members tools to improve their finances, such as career ministries and financial planning classes, can put them back on track to giving. Regular reports and communication about the effectiveness of ministries can instill confidence in how contributions are handled and inspire members to give more.
Finally, do churches make it easy for people to give when they can and want to? Many non-profit organizations have mastered that art, with techniques such as sustainable memberships that roll over from month-to-month. To compete, the church has to make giving effortless, too. Electronic giving, which offers convenience to churchgoers and a more predictable revenue stream for churches, can do that.
And after a year-long study we just concluded, we’ve found that e-Giving does have a positive impact on overall giving. For example, in our study, churches of one denomination that offered e-Giving options to members saw 26% higher total contributions than congregations not using it. (You’ll hear more about our study in the near future.)
The reality is, there are significant barriers to people giving to their churches, and it’s important that you do everything you can to make giving easier for your members.