There are two sides to a coin. Look at a quarter, and you might be looking at an eagle. Yet another person looking at the same quarter would argue that they are looking at the image of George Washington. Which one is correct? They both are. The answer depends upon which side of the coin you are looking at.
So, when you ask the question, how is church giving? The answer depends on which side of the coin you are looking at. Every year I review the findings of empty tomb inc.’s annual publication of The State of Church Giving. I believe the authors, John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, work is the definitive voice on what is going on in giving and what that means for the future. Thus, this Coach is entitled The Coach’s Annual Review of “The State of Church Giving.”
When it comes to analyzing giving, many church leaders are looking at only one side of the coin, the total amount given in dollars. Looking at only that side of the coin shows that Americans give more dollars than before. The Ronsvalles turned the coin over, establishing what I believe is a better measurement of giving capacity versus giving performance. They state:
“The key general category is giving as a percent of income. This category considers not only the dollars given, but also what portion of those dollars represent of the resources available to the church member who gave them. One might say that considering giving as a percent of income reflects how the donation rated in the donor church member’s overall lifestyle choices, a sort of thermometer to gauge the warmth of the member’s commitment.” 1. (Emphasis added)
My friend, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, writes about the two sides of the coin in his book, Ten Percent: A Call to Biblical Stewardship:
“You must think about giving from two perspectives, like two sides of a coin. One side reveals the percentage of the donor’s income given. The other side reveals the amount in terms of actual dollar amounts given. So, while giving in terms of amounts has increased, giving as a percentage of income is declining.
If you only look at one side of the coin, it has the potential to create a false sense of security about the financial health of the church. For many, this is what has happened. The decline is so slow that we can’t recognize what is right in front of us.” 2.
A huge part of my work is getting church leaders to recognize this sense of false security that has lulled us to sleep. I have found no better help in this endeavor than the annual The State of Church Giving reports. Their data is the most in-depth and extensive work I know of. Each release looks two years back.
Here are a few key facts from this year’s The State of Church Giving report:
- From 1968 to 2019, Total Contributions to the church in current dollars increased by $873.31 on a per-member basis. That amounted to an increase of 902% from the 1968 base. This is the side of the coin most look at.
- 1.95% is the percentage of Disposable Personal Income (DPI) Americans gave in 2019, a decline of -31% from the 3.02% given in 1968. The 1.95% was a decline from the 2.06% given in 2018.
- Total Contributions increased 75% in inflation-adjusted dollars while Americans DPI increased by 171%, over twice as much as per-member giving to churches. We made more and gave less.
All the statistics listed above tell us what is happening regarding giving. What that data does not reveal is why we are seeing church members give less each year. While there are many reasons for the decline in giving to the church, let me summarize a few key reasons.
- The secularization of America. Turn on your TV or go to the movies, and you can see we are more secular than ever. This has resulted in a…
- Decline in church membership and attendance. Simply put, fewer people attending or engaging with your church means fewer dollars for your church. At the same time, a decline in membership relates to a decline in giving, as those that join always give more than those who are only attendees.
- Our aging donor base. Our best and most generous donors are dying off or entering retirement.
- The failure to engage younger generations. This is the ticking time bomb that few are paying attention to. If we lose the next generation, how will we fund the important work of missions and ministry in the future?
- We have retreated from teaching stewardship as a part of discipleship. We have become obsessed with attendance, and in our rush to avoid anything controversial, we have jettisoned any talk of money.
- We have failed to communicate a compelling vision. We have not helped members see the connection between their gift and the life-change it can help produce.
These are but a few reasons we see a decline in giving. John and Sylvia Ronsvalle add another reason in this edition. In their final chapter, Serve God with Money At-Scale or Serve Money, they explore the new challenge facing church members in the U.S.: their relationship to money in an unprecedented sea of affluence. They share the impact marketing had on the new affluence Americans experienced post-WWII. They have linked the rise of marketing to a rise in materialism which thus leads to the level of unhappiness we now are experiencing. The desire for more “things” has resulted in a decline in giving. They further point out how most churches missed the opportunity to link members’ affluence to Kingdom work. Here is one of their summary statements:
“The choice before the church in the U.S. is whether to have the courage to confront the power of Money and harness that power for God’s agenda, on a church member by church member basis until a movement results in a tsunami of faithful obedience.”3.
This last quote sums it up well when they said, “Church people do not need to accept the world as it is presently defined. In fact, their faith tells them that they should not do so.” 4.
Church leaders, it is past time we accept this problem and address it head-on. The future of the Church hangs in the balance.
Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach
To get a copy of The State of Church Giving through 2019, go to https://emptytomb.org/publications/
- John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, The State of Church Giving through 2019. (Champaign: empty tomb, inc., 2022), p. 11
- Floyd, Dr. Ronnie, Ten Percent: A Call to Biblical Stewardship. (Nashville: Baptist Press, 2020), 6.
- John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, The State of Church Giving through 2019. (Champaign: empty tomb, inc., 2022), p. 166
- Ibid, p 167