Five Reasons Your Church’s Giving May Have Dropped Significantly This Year

November 4, 2019

By Thom S. Rainer

“It was like the bottom fell out.”

The comment came from a pastor in a micro consultation I hosted. He was both concerned and perplexed. He could not understand why the decline was taking place, and why it was so sudden.

In a great discussion at Church Answers, a number of pastors were discussing this same phenomenon. Their insights were varied and helpful.

What are some possible reasons church giving can take a seemingly dramatic turn downward? As we work with churches, we often see these five reasons.

  1. The church’s membership and attendance mix changed during the year. The common scenario is the loss of a few high-giving families replaced by newer lower-giving families. In these cases, leadership is often caught off guard because there was no corresponding attendance decline.
  2. The movement to digital giving has been too slow. If church leaders are not emphasizing digital giving options, there will likely come a day where giving begins to drop precipitously. Non-digital givers tend to give when they are physically present at a worship service. They often skip giving when they are not present. Digital givers are more likely to schedule their gifts on a regular schedule.
  3. There is a quiet protest movement in the church. I don’t like it when church members hold back giving when something does not go their way. Frankly, I would rather they go to another church they can support regularly. But financial protests are sadly common. I recently spoke to one pastor who discovered this ugly reality when the church introduced projection screens in the worship center. I am not kidding.
  4. There is not sufficient emphasis on encouraging people to be a part of a group. I am always amazed when I learn the giving habits of church members who are in a group versus those who are not. Those in groups often give three to five times more per capita. If the church loses its emphasis on groups even for a short season, giving can begin to suffer quickly.
  5. There is no clear vision. As a rule, Gen Xers and Millennials give to a mission and a vision rather than an institution. If a compelling vision is not clear, or if there are many competing visions and emphases, these younger adults may shift their giving elsewhere.

 If your church has seen a significant drop in giving this year, I encourage you to have a conversation with the person who sees the giving records. While he or she may not provide names and giving amounts, that person usually knows what is taking place. But they often don’t tell unless they are asked.

Declining giving is not always a gradual phenomenon. It can often be sudden and dramatic.

You need to learn what is taking place sooner rather than later.

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42 Comments

  • For me, #5 has often been the reason. Many churches these days do not help people in the Bible God wants us to help – widows, orphans, elders – and some not even for mission work. I feel as if I should be giving to organizations that do involved in that directly instead.

    I’ve served as musician at churches I know that are not small or below budget, yet they were very cheap to musicians and at times did not pay us (skipped pay and thought that was okay?)

    Some churches use money to build beautiful offices while charging people for parking and not having a church building. Not sure how the use of money is okay in that sense, I agree with someone’s post above. Some people give in their poverty, and pastor’s family are much wealthier with that money not used for charity work. Pastors should definitely be taken care of, as mentioned in the Bible, but use of money is often not clear and not ethical.

  • The mentality behind #5 really rubs me the wrong way. Many professing Christians in America have become little more than “fair weather friends” to the church. They’ll stay as long as the church is doing well, but they bail out the minute things turn rough, or when the leadership does something they don’t like. I shudder to think what will happen if Christians in America ever face real persecution for their faith. I daresay that many will be “weighed in the balances and found wanting”.

  • Sadly, I think the IRS increasing the standard deduction on income taxes last year has resulted in fewer people itemizing deductions and that has an affect on charitable giving.

  • I can definitely relate to #5. As a parent of a 21 year old we have had more than a few conversations about her lack of giving. She is emphatic that she isn’t going to giver her hard earned money to support a building that is never more than 1/2 full. Like many of her age, she was raised in church and saw her parents tithe faithfully every week along with giving extra for other purposes.

    She tells me that her generation will not give just so the pastor can drive a new car, eat lunch every day on the church’s dime, take exotic vacations, and other things her age consider to be “abuse”. She is especially adverse to supporting a building when everyday she deals with kids who don’t have enough to eat and who wear dirty clothes, while her own church refuses to offer solutions.

    I’m not saying I don’t partly agree with her, but if this generation doesn’t step up and begin supporting the church how will it survive? Maybe the answer to that is that it won’t survive, at least in it’s current form.

    • Good comment. Yet, I wonder about her complaints about how a pastor spends the funds. Is this her observation or is it a meme she is latching onto? In my experience few pastors are living the way she describes.

      On the other hand, I am thrilled that the church I am a member of chose to NOT build a new building but put the extra money into ministry to the poor. Now that is a ministry where it is challenging to understand what needs to be done.

  • I am curious if some of the decline may also be due to the tax code changes. Far fewer people are now able to itemize and claim the deduction for their giving. While I would hope our motivation is giving to our great God and not a tax-write off, I’m also realistic enough to suspect that some give for that 2nd reason. Our giving this year is actually up, but I am curious to see if there is impact in end-of-year-giving.

  • Coleman Walsh says on

    Generosity needs to be taught and emphasized, but too few pastors will do so because they fear the accusation of “always asking for money.” Fact is, there are over 2500 verses in the Bible about money, generosity & proper stewardship. Preaching and teaching generosity is clearly biblical.

    Also, (this is where I kick over the hornet’s nest), a pastor cannot properly shepherd his flock unless he knows what they are giving. The pastor who doesn’t want to know is like a doctor who won’t take a patient’s temperature or blood pressure. For a doctor, that would be medical malpractice. An unexpected decline in generosity likely signals some other spiritual issue going on in the lives of those individuals. Pastors must be attuned to that if they are going to lovingly shepherd their flocks. Hebrew 13:17 teaches that pastors will give an account for the souls of those entrusted to them. How can you do that if you avoid knowing some of the essential information that alerts you to a problem?

    And yes, I am not a pastor – just a lay member of my church who over 60+ years has seen way to much timidity in leadership and from behind the pulpit. I best go find my bullet-proof vest now! 😀

    • If the pastor knows what people give, they will be unlikely to go to that church.

      • Guy in the pew says on

        Any pastor who has been at the church a while has a good idea of who gives what. Besides where in the Bible does it say the pastor shouldn’t know? Peter certainly knew who gave what.

      • Craig Giddens says on

        Where in the Bible does it say a pastor should know? The incident in Acts 5 is not a doctrinal statement for the church. Paul was the apostle to the gentiles and he said “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

      • Guy in the Pew says on

        Don’t base doctrine on what the Bible doesn’t say. Why are giving records sacred? On what are you basing that idea? What does 2 Cor 9:7 have to do with confidential giving records? Besides, as I said, experienced pastors have a good idea who gives what even if they don’t look at the giving records.

  • I also found that some families don’t attend every Sunday so they give only when they are here on that Sunday which makes the giving fluctuate.

  • If a church is aging, there is a tipping point as more people retire and move to fixed income. This is happening in my church and I suspect we’re not alone. Churches in high property tax states have an additional issue this year — the changes in the tax code. My family had to pay almost 10k on April 15th and have spent the rest of the year digging out from under it. That and a few other unplanned expenses and it has not exactly been an abundant year. We’re catching up. I know middle class families in the northeast who, because of bad timing with real estate and retirement, paid as much as 50k unplanned out of pocket in April.

  • Maybe I’m too optimistic, but it could also be due to a rise in newer Christians. I know we’ve seen several new families, not just transfers, join our church, but as new and younger families join, it takes them a little while to begin to give in a significant way.
    This may not account totally for the dip in giving but mixed with other factors it could contribute (pun intended) to the decline.

  • Joe Pastor says on

    A few other obvious reasons giving declines:

    A loss of people usually equals a loss of dollars. We’ve been hearing much about attendance declines all across America; there’s an obvious connection.

    Also, as churches age, more people begin retirement, thereby having less income which equals a loss of dollars. In many churches, Baby Boomers have been the backbone of giving; as they retire, church receipts will go down.

  • In your #3, in the example you provided this is a real issue for some.

    https://thefederalist.com/2019/06/18/churches-should-ditch-projector-screens-bring-back-hymnals/

    • Guy in the pew says on

      Why? Why are you still fighting this battle? Why are you still perpetuating straw man arguments about the evils of modern worship? Hymnals are not inspired scripture, they are simply a collection of man-made songs that may or may not be Biblically accurate.

      The article to which you linked is non-sense. “Hymnals convey permanence.” Yes, that’s why they continually come out with new editions. Do you think the 2000 Baptist Hymnal has the same songs as the ’56? “Hymnals have deeper theology.” Does In the Garden have deeper theology than In Christ Alone or Our Living Hope or Man of Sorrows? The answer is No! Would the author be happy if they took all the new songs and bound them in a hymnal. Of course not because it’s not about the hymnals it’s about his music preference.

      Look, I love old hymns and I love many new songs but neither style is ordained by God and they both have their flaws and strengths.

      • LOL. You seem VERY angry. What makes you think I support the article?

      • If there’s nothing wrong with hymns, then why do so many churches insist on nothing but contemporary music?

      • Amen!!

      • Guy in the Pew says on

        And you wonder why I think you support the article.

      • Guy in the Pew says on

        Not sure what your comment has to do with mine. My point was that neither style is sacred and people need to stop acting as if their love of hymnals is anything more than personal preference.

        But to answer your question. The reason most churches sing contemporary music is because it’s contemporary, meaning it fits with the current culture.

      • Lol. It’s awful to be bitter.

      • The Bible certainly isn’t contemporary, and it doesn’t fit with the current culture (for instance, it condemns homosexuality as a sin). Should we get rid of it, too? Of course not! Truth is timeless, and to dismiss a song simply because it’s old is extremely shallow. Some of my favorite hymns were written before my grandparents were born.

        Mind you, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with contemporary music. I have no quarrel with the genre as such. My quarrel is with the people who lecture us on how “God can be worshiped in more ways than one” and “It’s not about you”, and yet they insist on singing nothing but contemporary music. Surely I’m not the only one who sees the hypocrisy in that attitude.

  • You could have lost a large donor due to their decline in physical health and needing care or death.

    As to #5, supporting an institution that has little vision and is not producing results does not set well with some people. The leadership really needs to talk to the next generations instead of being cloistered and silent.

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