Is the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in Trouble?

Is the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in Trouble?

“Through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Southern Baptists have given over $5 billion to international missions,” proclaims the International Mission Board’s website.1. Many churches saw their greatest response ever to the offering this past year, setting record dollar amounts. So, how can the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering be in trouble? The answer lies in seeing both sides of the giving coin.

In this edition of the Stewardship Journal, we explore the current state of giving to the church by reviewing the recently released report by empty tomb, inc., entitled The State of Church Giving through 2019. The yearly study is researched and written by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle and evaluates giving among numerous denominations, including Southern Baptists. They have revealed that giving to the church has increased if evaluated solely on the congregate amount of dollars given. Yet, if you look at what members of those congregations give as a percentage of their Disposable Personal Income (DPI), giving actually is declining.

Reading The State of Church Giving, looking at data and charts is not something the typical pastor or Christian leader does. So, we try yearly to bring you the key highlights and our thoughts on how you can see giving stay strong at your church. As a result of this year’s report, we are asking this question for your consideration, “Is the Lottie Moon Offering in Trouble?”

That question hit us near the end of this year’s edition of The State of the Church. The Ronsvalles, in the first seven chapters of their study, show that while dollars given to the Church have remained at record levels, the percentage that Americans give to their church is shrinking. They started their analysis in 1968 when Americans gave 3.02% of their disposable personal incomes to the Church. By 2019, the last year reviewed, that percentage has fallen to 1.95 percent—a change of -35%.2.

In their final chapter, the Ronsvalles attempt to show why this decline is happening. They make a strong case for how affluence and the power of money have impacted our members and churches and what that impact has upon current and future giving. They write about the tension money exerts upon us in living out our faith.

To illustrate that tension, they turn to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. They write, “That tension is very difficult to navigate. A specific example of how that tension affects overseas missions as affluence has grown may be found in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which identifies global missions as a key purpose of the communion.” They then provide a graph showing contributions to the offering as a percent of income and U.S. per capita DPI in inflation-adjusted dollars from 1921 to 2019. Here is a quote they give summarizing their findings:

“Growing support for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was evident from the mid-1920s and peaked in 1965, at .0464% of Disposable Personal Income. However, by 2019, giving as a portion of income to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering had decreased 53% to 0.0218%.”3.

Fractional percentage declines don’t elicit much attention or concern. The Ronsvalles, earlier in the study, pointed out that the percentage Americans are giving to Benevolences decreased from 2018 to 2019 by -0.020007519%. That fractional decline represented $195.6 million less to spend in 2019.4. This begs the question of how much Southern Baptists have lost in missional dollars due to our members giving proportionately less year after year. It is also a wake-up call that the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering might well be in trouble unless we work to reverse this percentage decline.

The study states, “This analysis suggests that even a communion that has worked to keep global missions central to its purpose has not been able to withstand the dynamics accompanying the growing financial resources in the U.S. Without a broad positive agenda for affluence on the part of the church in the U.S. as a whole, it seems one communion is not strong enough to stem the tide of the tsunami of engulfing influence.” They conclude their review by saying, “It is at this point of tension that the church needs to provide broader leadership, finding a unity of purpose…”5.

To that, we say, Amen! And we want to end by quoting from our Executive Director, Dr. John Yeats, who wrote this about last year’s reported decline in giving in “The State of Church Giving through 2018 report. He wrote the following:

“What should our response be to this decline? This slow erosion in the percentage of giving by Americans must be addressed. Southern Baptists have long taught the tithe’s biblical directive, giving 10% of one’s income to their local church. The passing of so many of our older members underscores the necessity of teaching the tithe as a means of reversing a decline in giving in our churches. Only through a consistent discipleship approach that teaches members how to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to them will we reverse these declines.

We also must continue to educate our members about the impact of their giving. Too often, we have failed to connect our vision to giving. Let me end with this final quote from the study that says, “A denomination that is able to involve its members in a larger vision, such as mission outreach, as evidenced in levels of giving support to support that idea, will also be attracting additional members.”

Our mission is the Great Commission. As we focus upon reaching the lost in our towns, cities, counties, state, nation, and the world, I believe God’s people will rally to support that mission. Now is the time to act. Our mission is too important not to be fully funded.”6.

Let’s head that call and provide the leadership needed to rally our members around our mission, The Great Commission. Casting a compelling vision is one clear path toward assuring that future Lottie Moon Christmas Offerings are not in trouble.

  2. John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, The State of Church Giving through 2019. (Champaign: empty tomb, inc., 2022), p.12
  3. Ibid, p. 148
  4. Ibid, p. 17
  5. Ibid, p. 149
  6. March 1, 2021 edition

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