Walking in the Right Direction A column by Bill Ellenberger for The Daily Herald

New study shows trends in tithing and donating: Part 2

Americans are known the world over as having big hearts in giving. Certainly we do well when an appeal is made verses giving voluntarily in our belief to the Lord. Do you sometimes wonder where you are at in your giving life verses others in your community?
While theologians debate whether or not the practice of tithing – donating ten percent (or more) of one’s income to churches and charitable groups – is a biblical responsibility of Christians, Americans have pretty much made up their minds on the subject. In a recent study by The Barna Group released new research tracking survey conducted by the firm regarding religious behaviors and beliefs.
Tithing in 2007
Origins of Tithing
Strangely, tithing is a Jewish practice, not a Christian principle espoused in the New Testament. The idea of a tithe – which literally means one-tenth or the tenth part.
Christians Give the Most
Christians tend to be the most generous group of donors. An examination of the three dominant subgroups within the Christian community showed that evangelicals, the seven percent of the population who are most committed to the Christian faith, donated a mean of $4,260 to all non-profit entities in 2007. Non-evangelical born again Christians, who represent another 37 percent of the public, donated a mean of $1,581. The other 42 percent of the Christian population, who are aligned with a Christian church but are not born again, donated a mean of $865. Overall, the three segments of the Christian community averaged donations of $1,426.
The Christian giving was divided between Protestants (mean of $1,705) and Catholics ($984).
In contrast, Americans associated with non-Christian faiths gave away a mean of $905 during 2007. Atheists and agnostics provided an average of $467 to all non-profit organizations.
Born Again Giving Changes
The aggregate born again community (i.e., evangelicals as well as non-evangelical born again adults) donated a mean of $1,971 to all non-profits and churches. That is the highest level reached by the born again population this decade. However, several giving patterns raised red flags for churches.
The percentage of born again adults who gave any money to churches dropped to its lowest level this decade (76 percent). In addition, the money donated by born agains to churches as a proportion of all of the money born agains gave away has also dropped precipitously. During the first five years of the decade, an average of 84 cents out of every dollar donated by born again adults went to churches. In the past three years, though, the proportion has declined to just 76 cents out of every donated dollar.
Interpreting the Shift
George Barna put the shift in born again giving into perspective.
“Born again adults remain the most generous givers in a country acknowledged to be the most generous on the planet,” said the veteran researcher. “But their donation decisions must be seen in the larger context of the changes occurring in a wide range of religious behaviors. With millions of people shifting their allegiance to different forms of church experience, and a more participatory society altering how people interact and serve others, many Christians are now giving their money to different types of organizations instead of a church. They attend conventional churches less often. They are expanding their circle of Christian relationships beyond local church boundaries. And they are investing greater amounts of their time and money in service organizations that are not connected with a conventional church. That doesn’t make such giving inappropriate or less significant, it’s just a different way of addressing social needs.”
“The choices being made by born again donors have huge implications for the non-profit sector. Realize that a majority of the money donated by individuals in the U.S. comes from the born again constituency,” Barna pointed out. “If this transition in the perceptions and giving behavior of born again adults continues to accelerate, the service functions of conventional churches will be redefined within the next eight to ten years, and conventional churches will have to adopt new ways of assisting people in need.”
About the Research
“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”
2 Corinthians 8:12 “If you are really eager to give, it isn’t important how much you are able to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you don’t have.”
Stayed Focused on the King, Bill

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