The Giving Drought | Who’s to Blame?

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Rumor has it that Evangelical Christians give about 2% of their income.

I tend to be a little skeptical about statistics because they are too easy to manipulate and say what you want them to say.

However, I think we can all confidently say the giving stats (as defined by giving to a local church) in North America are pretty pathetic compared to our incomes.

And anytime there is bad news, we expect there to be some pointing of fingers.

So, let me be the first to point the finger.  (Don’t worry, I’ll judge everyone by making sure we’re all to blame!)

Churches Point the Fingers at Members

Typically, here’s what happens around this time of year (budget time for many churches).

Problem: The leadership recognizes that the membership is giving less than they should.

Traditional Solution: They ask one of the ministers to do a sermon about the importance of giving.

The Unaddressed Question:  Why is it that members are giving less?

  • Do they need help learning how to manage their money?  It’s is a pragmatic or a spiritual issue?
  • Is there something wrong with the way the leadership is handling the money that needs to be addressed?
  • Have members been properly educated about the reason for giving?
  • Will there be a conflict of interest if someone paid by the church encourages those in the church to give more?

Members Point the Finger at Churches

Problem: Members see how church funds are being spent / allocated, and they don’t always agree.

Traditional Solution: Members give less and less to their local church and find other more ‘meaningful’ ways to use their money.

The Unaddressed Question: Why is it that churches are spending our money the way they are?

  • Do church members need to be sitting down with leadership for some meaningful discussion on how church budget should be allocated?
  • Is there something wrong with our hearts when we want to control the final destination of every dollar instead of entrusting that decision to others?
  • Are we properly acknowledging the fact that church mission and church administration are legitimate uses for church funds?

The Way Forward

I think this giving drought (as measured by members giving to churches) will only continue to worsen.

Younger generations of Christians want their money to ‘count’.  Often times, this involves social justice.  Emerging generations have different values than the builder generation.  One generation saw church expansion as a legitimate means to honor God.  There is a younger generation that wants to see less spent on ‘upkeep’ and ‘administration’ and more spent on ‘actually helping people’.

Currently, it is the building generation that still gives the majority of church funds.  Younger generations are taking their toys with them and playing in another sand pit.

I think church leaders and church members need to be having serious discussions about the issue of giving.  This is especially true when members are discovering ‘better’ things to do with their money.  The discussion must involve the different generations represented within the church.  I can almost promise you they will think the ‘most important thing to do with money’ is vastly different.

I think members need to be speaking more (by using words, not withdrawing funds), and leaders need to be listening.

Do you give all of your money to the local church?  Does how your church spends money impact how much you give?  What proactive things can be done to help encourage members to believe in the financial mission of the church?  Do you know churches that do this well?


  1. says

    I would say that one of the main problems is how giving is taught. The trend tends to be that we teach giving using fear, guilt, promises of blessings, or some other “motivating” factor that’s really not all that motivating when it comes down to actually parting with your money. Even the fact that we think we have to teach giving should alert us to a problem.

    Rather, if we focused on living in the reality of God’s kingdom and His sovereign power and focused on the life and character of Jesus as the model for each of us as Christians, then giving would naturally follow as a result. Anyone who keeps their eyes on Jesus and makes it their ultimate goal to seek God’s kingdom first and to put themselves in the position to have their character transformed into the character of Christ won’t need to be taught (much), motivated, or guilted into giving. It will happen naturally because that’s the kind of person they’ve become – a giving, generous person – not a greedy person who needs to be convinced that giving is good for them.

    Does that make sense, Craig? I’m not sure if I’m being very clear as I’m still working through this myself. But I feel like that’s the deeper problem here – we are reluctant to give because we trust something or someone other than God for our security and we don’t live in the reality that He is enough – He’s all we need.

    • says

      I think it makes perfect sense.

      Like most things teaching is an important part of the process. I do agree with that. However, I’ve found in ministry that using ‘guilt or fear’ is actually a very effective motivator. No, I don’t try to use it, but I’ve seen that people who do get results.

      The problem is that guilt and fear are the wrong motivations. The ends certainly do not justify the means. Giving for the right reason is as important as the act of giving.

      Perhaps the giving drought is just a sign of our hearts inclination to hold onto money?

      • says

        Exactly – fear and guilt might get “results”, but they aren’t the results that God is looking for. The kind of results they produce are those that wither in the scorching heat because they have no root. Without being rooted in the reality of a new life lived out in God’s kingdom (and specifically, a new life accepted without emotional manipulation), our “good” fruit won’t last at all.

        The giving drought is a sign of our choice to trust in money rather than God, but the cause of the drought goes much deeper – even into what we teach and preach about the Gospel.

  2. Charlene says

    I am 26, and my husband and I regularly give 10% of our gross income to our home church, which is something we have always done together since we were married, and that I have done since I first started working.

    I was taught that giving is a reminder to the giver that God gives us everything, from every breath we breathe to our ability to work and earn money, and that it is a tangible way we can put our trust in Him for provision and show that He is Lord over every aspect of our lives. My pastor once put it, “Show me your checkbook, and I’ll tell you where your priorities lie.” (This was before online banking! I guess now it would be, “show me your transactions…”)

    How my church spends money doesn’t normally impact how much I give, except in drastic cases or if I have enough money to give more for a special event/cause/fundraiser. I give to my home church because I feel like God led me to serve there, and that I can serve not only with my abilities/gifts, but also with my financial resources, to make sure that the church can continue to function and achieve its mission to spread the good news and be a gathering place for us to come and learn more about God and have fellowship with one another.

    I do want my money to “count,” but I also think it is prideful to think that it only counts if it’s given toward a certain cause or if it will be used immediately in a way that the giver thinks is good/useful. I came to know the Lord through a church that would not have existed if it had not been supported by its members. It was a small church, and their offerings didn’t do much more than pay the bills and keep the church running, but it was because of that that I was able to learn about God and experience His love, for which I am forever grateful.

    I agree with both Paul and Craig that the way giving is taught is crucial in this issue, because if people are taught to give out of fear, guilt, or in order to receive some sort of blessing/promise, they will be less likely to give when they are pushed to the limit or if they feel like their offerings have not been a “good investment,” which is a pretty selfish way of looking at things. Rather, we should give because God is giving, and we should serve because God serves, and we should sacrifice because God sacrificed Himself for us.

    That’s what I think about the issue! Sorry for the essay!

    • says

      Thanks so much for your thoughts on this topic. I think your dedication to giving is to be commended.
      It is important that we honor and are actively involved in supporting the ministries of our local church.
      Again, your comment highlights the value of proper teaching on the topic.

  3. Scott F says

    Good discussion. We give about half of our giving to our local church and the other half is spread out to other ministries outside of our local church. So the church gets the largest amount of anyone, but there are many needs in our local community and across the world that our local church is not addressing.

    Sometimes, churches “leave” some things to be done by other nonprofit organizations and that is not always a bad thing — some groups are more of an expert at addressing some things or can be more efficient in doing so. But oftentimes, churches don’t provide the financial support to those organizations to do the work.

    And this is especially true in churches that attract members from a large geographic region. Let’s use the church food pantry as an example. We give food to our church’s food pantry to give out to the neighbors of our church who are in need. Yet I live 20 miles away from the church and have many neighbors in my community who are also in need of food. So we donate money to the community food bank that serves the neighbors in our town. Same with our time. We give a lot of our time being involved in the ministries of our church. But we also give a lot of our time being involved outside of our church’s ministries.

    We give to help children in foreign countries receive the polio vaccine, to various people and organizations sending people out on missions, to orphanages, disease research, education, and even to the arts that in addition to making a community a better place to live (and attracting more people with means to live there and thus means to address local needs) often provide services to children in poverty.

    All of this to say that the needs of the world (and even our local community) go beyond the ministries of just our local church. As Christians, are we called to support these things too? Is it giving to God only if the check has a church’s name in the “to” line? I imagine this is some of the struggle of the different generations and of the decrease in church giving from the study. I don’t know.

    The church can’t do everything, but it can keep us focused on who we serve, on growing closer to the Lord, call us to make a difference through the work of our church and through our involvement in our communities, and shaping us into the people God calls us to be.

    • says

      I think it is important to realize (as you say) that a churches involvement is sometimes completely different than a non-profits involvement in a situation. The goal is a reciprocal relationship when possible.
      As such, there are certainly occasions where our giving is best allocated to helping ministries. Hopefully, this is something churches can encourage instead of discourage. That is, of course, as long as there is still enough money to support their missionaries ☺.

  4. says

    We are dealing with similar issues in the Jewish community. Many large Jewish non-profits had investments with Bernie Madoff, so they were devastated by the collapse. Now they are struggling to get new revenue as well. It is tough out there for non-profits these days.

  5. Al says

    Go to the Bible for guidance on what the church should be doing. Does the church dispose of donations according to the scriptural guidelines or does it go by the minds of men? Church programs or social programs?
    It is fine for the church (teachers) to encourage the members to involve themselves in good works, and to help them to organize into community projects. But the church treasury, that which is “laid by in store,” should not be spent on whatever good works the preacher, elders, or some adviser thinks good but rather spend it on what the scripture says to spend it on.

  6. Al says

    Where did the funds Bernie Made-Off with go? I would venture that none or very little was in untraceable cash but was in very traceable bank, etc. transfers. As the money was stolen (fraud), those who received it should have to return it.
    From what I have read, Made-Off was up front with his plan. Those seeking easy money and unrealistically high returns simply were deaf to what they should have realized were warnings Bernie gave.
    If someone tells you he is going to defraud you, and explains how he is going to do it, you are not defrauded.
    Each person who joins a “Ponzi”-like scheme is planning to get out before it collapses, thereby being one of the swindlers instead of being one of the swindlees.

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