Why the Giving in Your Church Is Decreasing

March 5, 2018

You are trying to comprehend why the giving levels in your church are down. You may know several possibilities, but you aren’t certain. As I have worked with several congregations, we have isolated the issue to one or a few causes. See if any of these causative factors may be at work in your church.

  1. Lower attendance. Okay, I may be stating the obvious here, but it is worth noting. I spoke with a pastor whose church’s giving is down 15 percent from a year ago, and the attendance is down 12 percent. There is a high correlation between attendance and giving, even if you have a strong online giving component. It is also worth noting that attendance frequency is down in many churches, if not most churches, as well. The family who attends three times a month is more likely to give more than the same family attending two times a month.
  2. Generational shifts. Builders, those born before 1946, are more likely to give to the church out of institutional loyalty. Boomers and Gen X have the highest family incomes, but their giving is not as consistent. Millennials thus far are not strong givers in our churches. In many churches, the Builders are being replaced with Millennials. In other words, more generous givers are being replaced with less generous givers.
  3. Giving to purposes rather than organizations. From the Builders to the Millennials, there has been a dramatic shift in the motivations for giving. The Builders, as noted above, are more likely to give out of institutional loyalty. Thus, church leaders could exhort this generation to “give to the church,” and they would respond positively. The Millennials, however, give to purposes rather than organizations. Church leaders must demonstrate with specificity how the funds in the church are being used for a greater purpose. And that greater purpose must be real, personal, and compelling.
  4. Little teaching on giving. The pendulum has swung too far. In an overreaction to the constant pleas for money twenty years ago, more church leaders are hesitant to even mention the spiritual discipline of giving. Frankly, many of our church members do not comprehend that giving is both a mandate and a blessing, because they have not been taught about it in their churches.
  5. Not as much discretionary income among churchgoers. Before you object to this point, I know fully our discretionary income should not be the basis for our giving. God should get the first fruits, and not the leftovers. But the stark reality is that many people who do give to churches only give their leftovers, or their discretionary income. Though the economy has improved over the past few years, most of the growth in discretionary income has been in the top 20 percent of household incomes. Yet those who attend our churches are more likely to be a part of the other 80 percent. Simply stated, most of our church members have not seen increases of any size in discretionary income.

There are obvious actions we can take toward this challenge. We can teach and preach unapologetically on biblical stewardship. We can be clearer on the purpose or the “why” behind the giving. And we can offer different mechanisms for giving to make it more like a spiritual habit rather than a negligent afterthought. My church, with under 200 in attendance, offers traditional giving, online giving, and text giving. Many churches still do quite well with envelope giving.

I would love to hear what you think and, perhaps, what your church is doing in this area.

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56 Comments

  • I believe that if there is an in-depth connection with the people , you will not only see an increase in giving butvan increase in attendance
    People need to feel like they are a part of something
    They need to feel belong
    A church organization is. O different from the secular organization where RETENTION should have a Strategy
    That Strategy is call Connecting with the people .
    If folks have issues in their lives and no one even pray with them or even call them
    Trust me they are going to say Bye Bye very fast
    People have choices
    Lots of churches are around

  • I believe giving is not so much a financial issue as it is a spiritual issue for believers. A church needs to teach biblical financial principles. A church needs to educate members on how finances are handled. And a church needs to make their mission & vision clear. There are certain circumstances that can make it difficult for people to give – such as unplanned medical expenses or the loss of a job – but typically giving is a spiritual marker of the level of maturity in a believer. As a long-time pastor and a “preacher’s kid” – I have yet to find the first tither that has complained about teaching on biblical principles of giving. Complaints tend to come from those who do not tithe.

  • Anonymous says on

    This article belittles millennials and misunderstands the economy we are living in. You describe Millenials as “less generous givers” as if we’re sitting on similar piles of cash and not poor and paying loans. I agree. Do I struggle with budgeting? Sometimes! Is that a character flaw of being ungenerous? No. Does that mean I don’t contribute to the church? No. Do I have deep pockets or 30+ years of work and savings? No, I simply do not. This is not a matter of “excess income”.
    This feels like putative article that is out of touch with the reality that millienials are living. Perhaps there are many factors contributing, such as low wages, loans, high living costs, wide spread depression, being discounted, vocal activity about the flaws of the church. This is a prideful argument that does not extend love to millennials that further us from the church. Maybe the church needs to redefine the meaning of generous. Lastly, perhaps we are giving to other causes because they are doing better than the local church?

  • I would suggest you pull the 990s for Samarations purse. I bet no one on staff at your local church has a salary package of 3 million dollars as Franklin Graham does. Billy Graham was earning a million a year in salary till the end, and built a net worth north of 30 million. Don’t assume these para-church organizations are any better than your local church.

    The top man at the salvation army lives near me in a multi-million dollar mansion a few miles down the potomac from George Washington’s mount vernon.

    Should we demand a return on our investment in the Lord’s work ? YES !
    For starters an audited finnancial statment should be sent annually to every contributor. NO FINNANCIAL STATEMENT= NO MONEY. Why should we accept these internally generated, garbage finance statements from are churches that look like Bernie Madioff & Andy Fastow of Enron fame cranked them out over a bottle of wine. The church needs the same finnancial accountability as any investment / brokerage house .

  • Brad Walworth says on

    I wonder how much this decrease in giving is related to spiritual warfare? It may not have such an effect in larger churches, but in smaller churches decreased giving is directly related to their ability to pay a pastor a livable income from which he can support his family, struggling to keep their doors open, and church closures. As a seminary graduate with pastoring experience, my current secular employment is largely related to knowing I cannot provide for my family on the very limited salaries many smaller churches that may consider me are offering. No sob story here, I do volunteer ministry at a nursing home and through open air preaching, but I just cannot afford to commit my time fully to a church. I have to believe my situation is not unique.

    • Smaller churches are indeed struggling. Part of the reason is too many evangelicals have embraced their own version of the “prosperity gospel”. They’ve gotten the idea that if your church isn’t running at least several hundred, then it’s somehow a failure. As a result, many people simply think they’re too good for smaller churches. I know that’s a harsh thing to say, but I’m convinced it’s true.

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