In today’s Britain over two thirds of adults give to charity. In 2002, the ‘participation rate’ stood at 67.3% and the average monthly donation was £12.93. British Christians are more generous than the average donor. Giving to churches by individuals has increased although church attendance has declined. Christians give an average £60 a month to their churches and make additional gifts to other Christian and secular charities.
An unknown variable in calculating Christian charitable giving is the growing number of para-church organisations. Today there are thousands of Christian organisations in Britain and every week new ones are being started. Although many of these organisations are doing much needed Kingdom work, they are also competing with churches and each other for a limited pool of financial contributors. Are these parachurch organisations with refined fundraising methods receiving more money than churches?
At present, giving to the local church takes priority above giving to parachurch organisations. Research findings from Churchgoers and Financial Giving report show that nine out of 10 Christians (94%) attach great importance to giving to their local church.
However, in the future this trend might change. In fact, according to the US analyst George Barna changes in giving are already happening in the United States. ‘People,’ writes Barna in How to Increase Giving to Your Church, ‘are no longer are giving to the church because it is the church. The church must prove it is worthy of donations through the mark it leaves in the world. Among the pastors, the old wisdom about giving was, “We don’t have to persuade people to support the church; that’s God’s job.” The new wisdom is, “ We must effectively convey to our people what we stand for, and how we minister and what difference the church is making in people’s lives”.’
Barna’s words are a timely warning to churches not to take people’s giving for granted but follow the example of the para-church organisations and make a greater effort to communicate their vision, to share good news ministry stories and to encourage people to give on a regular basis.
The money dilemma
Considering that Christians are primary contributors to charitable causes, you might expect joyfulness and openness about giving to be one of the trademarks of our churches and Christian life. Often this is not the case, start talking about money or giving in a church and notice how people start showing signs of quiet nervousness rather than joyfulness.
Our uneasiness about money is rooted in our unwillingness to accept that our relationship with money has strong spiritual implications. Of the 38 parables Jesus told, 17 focus on the use of money and possessions. Howard Dayton, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries and plenary speaker of M:Power 2004 Christian stewardship event points out that, “The reason Jesus talked so much about money is that it competes with God for lordship of our lives.
Our relationship with money has an impact on the level of intimacy we have with Christ, as suggested in Luke 16:1. True wealth is having a deeper relationship with Christ.”
As a Stewardship Education Consultant I have attended many stewardship meetings at denominational offices or local churches that seem to focus only on how much people give and how much they should give and bypass discussions on issues like what is the connection between money and spirituality, what does the Bible say about money or how do people’s attitudes towards money affect their spiritual growth and discipleship. In the words of the John C. Haughey, “It’s not like faith to be silent, but in the presence of money it has learnt to accept a monologue.”
In a conversation after a money management workshop in a South London church a young accountant expressed his frustration with his church’s attitude towards money, “Our church treasurer always talks about money in terms of surpluses or shortfalls for next year’s budget and all the fundraising letters I get from charities talk about needs and how these needs can be met by my giving. But no one is talking about how I should handle fears, hopes and loyalties that are so interwoven with our money.”
In today’s consumer oriented environment even children know that ‘money makes the world go around.’ Yet some church leaders proudly declare that they have never preached a sermon on money. How could they not? How relevant can the Church be to our culture if it does not teach anything about one of the driving forces of our human existence?
Biblical stewardship – coming to grips with money
In addition to how giving relates to our spiritual well-being another important question that needs to be addressed is: What biblical guidelines for giving should people be encouraged to embrace?
Historically one common standard for giving has been the tithe, or giving 10% of one’s income. In the Old Testament three kinds of tithes were mentioned. In Leviticus 27:30-32, a tithe was given annually for the support of the local priesthood. This is similar today to the money given to the church budget for supporting the minister and the activities of the local church. The second kind of tithe is found in Deuteronomy 12:5-19 and 14:22-27. This tithe underwrote the expenses of the three major Jewish festivals of Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, and Feast of Weeks. Today, we seldom spend funds for any kind of religious celebrations except infrequent church meals. The third tithe is identified in Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12-15. This tithe was taken every third year to support the poor and the needy in local communities. Today, church mission giving represents this kind of tithe. So, each year the prescribed tithe amounted to 23% of one third of one’s annual income before any giving to building projects or special offerings.
In the New Testament, tithing is specifically mentioned in Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, Luke 18:12 and Hebrews 7:4-9. However, all these passages do not constitute a major teaching on giving. In my opinion, Jesus does not teach about tithing, but he does not teach against it either. He affirms its importance to discipleship and faithfulness to God.
Paul and John also do not provide specific teaching about tithing, but they do address the issues of attitude and motives for giving. The major teaching about giving in the NT has to do with the support of the Christian saints in Jerusalem through a special offering (2 Corinthians 8-9).
Although the Bible teaches tithing as an act of entering in a special relationship with God today there is no clear consensus on the tithe as an accepted standard of stewardship. A survey of church leaders on stewardship conducted in 1998 showed that only 35% of Protestant ministers promoted tithing to their congregation members while 58% of ministers promoted giving a portion of one’s income. Also data from Churchgoers Financial Giving report indicated that four out of 10 Christians consider tithing to be unrealistic.
Concerns about tithing
One area of concern for church leaders is that promoting tithing introduces legalism in giving rather than freedom to respond to God’s grace. Steve Fairhall of Ronald Blue UK argues that, “Focusing on tithing as the only guideline for giving runs the risk of setting a goal that most people aspire to but never reach, and those that do reach it never move on from it. Sadly, a lot of teaching about tithing has been from a legalistic angle, and has left many Christians disillusioned and the world cynical about our standards.”
Another area of concern about tithing is that it may give the wrong impression about what it means to be a good steward of God’s resources. Tithing could be misleading in that giving 10% does not put us in a favourable place with God. Jesus expects us to be good stewards of the other 90%. “I believe that God looks at what we keep not what we give,” says Keith Tondeur of Credit Action, “which is why to me the widow’s mite story is as important as tithing. Sometimes wealthy people might feel self satisfied in tithing when they should be giving far more than 10%. Equally, unemployed people or single parents might feel guilty for not tithing. Pastors today should teach about sacrificial giving rather than tithing. We need to stop seeing giving as a formula and start to see it as an act of love.”
Support for the tithe
Yet a good number of church leaders, especially in the New Church movements view tithing as a spiritual discipline applicable to Christians today. RT Kendall, who retired last year after 25 years at Westminster Chapel, has been one of the great advocates of tithing as a means of worshipping God and of bringing wealth and possessions under the lordship of Christ. Other church leaders interviewed for a stewardship project said that they promote tithing as a voluntary act of humility that symbolises faith in a God who provides for His people in their time of need. Several times during our discussions they shared stories of how members of their congregations who tithed to the church had experienced God’s care and provision in amazing ways. When asked what impact had this teaching on tithing made on their people – one of the ministers said, “Teaching on tithing as a way of connecting with God has made our people more caring for each other and has deepened our sense of community.” So what conclusion might a church member who understands the importance of stewardship come to about giving? I believe Christian leaders from both sides of the debate on tithing agree on one thing - giving to God because He gave to us first. A good place for all Christians to start looking for guidelines on giving is at the foot of the cross. God loved. How shall we respond? Are we willing to surrender all areas of our lives, including our money to God? Will we open our hearts to more of what God wants for His people and His world? The challenge for church leaders and Christian organisation fundraisers is to assist Christians who are willing to open their heart and their wallets to God by equipping them with biblical principles that affirm our identity as stewards rather than consumers and by providing opportunities for each of us to grow in the grace of giving. No shortcuts and quick fixes will do.
What was given to British churches?
The total income of churches during 1995 – 2000 period rose by 39% and the average church income in 2000 was £ 57,000.
The weekly giving per person at all English churches in 2000 was £12 from an average Sunday congregation of 93 people. This figure is double the average amount (£6 per person) given in 1990 from an average Sunday congregation of 112 people.
The average amount donated weekly in 2000 by Church of England parishioners was around £16. That is just short of the target of 5% of average earnings (about £17 per church member per week) recommended by the Anglican churches. (Source: Religious Trends No 4, published by Christian Research)
Who gives and how much?
More than half of all churchgoers (61%) contribute as individuals to their local church, while another third (34%) do so jointly with their spouse.
Only one in 10 (15%) people give 10% or more of their income to their church on a regular basis.
Around four in 10 people say they give at least 5% of their income to the church regularly while another one in four give less then 5% of their income to the church.
However, three in 10 people only give to church when they are present (28%) and one in 20 do not contribute at all to the church they are attending.
How and to what?
In 2000 four in 10 people (41%) decided how much they gave to the church on a weekly basis while another two in 10 (22%) gave regularly a portion of an annual figure.
About two thirds (63%) of respondents gave to non-religious causes in the year 2000, while a third (33%) of respondents gave to religious causes beyond their local church.
Attitudes towards giving
Three out of 10 Christians think that it is inappropriate to talk about money during the worship, while four out of 10 Christians believe that tithing is unrealistic.
By far the most popular influences on giving to the church were either participation in God’s work (25%) or gratitude to God (23%) each attracting about a quarter of all responses.
The second group of influences (sense of obligation, religious duty and Bible’s teaching) accounted for around one in 10 of all responses.
The least influencing factor on people’s giving to the church was being urged to give by the church leadership (1%). This may reflect the relative rarity of such appeals or that they might not be particularly productive.
(Source: Churchgoers and Financial Giving, Report for the Stewardship Network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, published by Churches Information for Mission (CIM), May 2002)