For decades, the church has lost ground with overall charitable giving.
- Charitable giving is up—a near record of $485 billion in 2021, despite surging inflation.
- Giving to churches has dropped even though giving to non-profits is up by 4%.
- In the early 1980s, churches received over half of all charitable giving.
- Today, churches receive less than a third of all charitable giving.
Churches are getting less of the total charitable giving. Overall, charitable giving is on the rise in the United States, but churches are receiving a smaller and smaller portion. The bottom line is simple. People who give see the church as merely one option among many places to give.
Why? I believe Barna provides good insight into this question.
Only 35 percent of Christians “completely trust” Christian churches with their financial support. This is important for churches to recognize because over one-third of Christians (37%) see their donations outside of the church as part of their tithe, and some Christians may decide to redistribute their charitable dollars elsewhere, depending upon their level of trust.
It’s a well-documented trend that charitable giving is up in the United States while the portion churches receive is dropping. Again, a lack of trust is a significant concern.
What can you do to help build trust in your church finances? Small steps can make a big difference.
1. Print regular financial statements for church members. Quarterly is preferred. Make these statements available during your most active times, like Sunday mornings. If there is nothing to hide, then why not distribute financial statements?
2. Explain the financials to your staff. Make sure they have a basic understanding of the budget. For example, part of my weekly report to the staff includes an update on the numbers of the church. Staff must help build this culture. Mistrust among staff will lead to mistrust among congregants.
3. Celebrate ministry successes and remind people their generosity is one of the reasons for the success. Guilt is a terrible motivator. Making people feel guilty about not giving will change behavior for a couple of weeks. Your main worship times are an excellent opportunity to inspire people to give by focusing on how God is working through the church.
4. Make biblical giving an expectation of membership, and explain generosity in the membership class. For many years, I recoiled at the thought of telling new members our expectations of generosity. Now I joyfully teach it. Why the change? I found many new members are eager to give! They are excited about what’s happening in the church. That’s why they’re there!
5. Make biblical giving a requirement for church leadership, especially staff. We do generosity checks on staff and key leadership positions in our church. It’s done discreetly and without sharing any detailed financial information. Our paid staff are required to tithe, and giving patterns are checked annually.
6. Pray through your budget process and call your people to do the same. The budget process should be guided by prayer! I’m all for churches using sound business principles to guide their finances. Issues of liquidity, debt service, and cash flow are critically important to church health. But prayer is even more important! So don’t forget to pray over your budget.
Good stewardship practices build trust, and people are inclined to be more generous with non-profit organizations they trust. It’s time for churches to start regaining this trust and do more for God’s kingdom.
This topic was discussed recently in Church Answers Central (thanks, Josh White!). At Church Answers Central, we answer these kinds of questions every day. Church Answers Central is the world’s largest online community for practical ministry support. Get 24/7 answers to your church questions. Join a vibrant community of nearly 2,000 church leaders in a safe environment. Connect with top church health experts like Thom Rainer, Chuck Lawless, Sam Rainer, and others like you. Become a member today!
Posted on February 15, 2023
As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
More from Sam
Too often churches did not end (stop funding) ministries that weren’t working, did not know if ministries were working or not, and did not break out the budget by area. Charity hospitals know and report how many patients were treated who could not pay. Food banks know and report how many people came to them. Battered women’s shelters know how many women were there every night and for how long. People like me consider all of those to be charity.
Years ago, a church I attended had ~80 ministries it supported (an Episcopal congregation with ~150 members). When we reviewed the ministries supported we found that a lot of them were started well in the past and were projects that were well supported in their infancy. As the lead supporters moved out of leadership roles, the physical support waned, and the financial support (in name only) continued. The church was fragmented in their outreach – a lot of little “$50” ministries which were probably ineffective.
We reviewed the ministries we supported and established a method to evaluate each ministry. Things like: which ministries are part of our core value? which ministries are things we simply throw money at to feel good? which ministries were more personal than community (a person’s project not the church’s). We rightly pared down the ministries, supported the ones in line with our values, and the congregation was invigorated by it.
The problem before was the program was supported in the heyday but had lost it’s support. Sometimes, the hardest thing is to let things go.
The church I attend has not given out a financial statement in over 2 years that I have been attending. They do teach being generous, but they do not say anything to attenders about what happens to the money that is given. The church also does not have members.