What Could Happen if All Christians Tithed

Here’s a compelling (and long and pathetic) piece on giving and the church. I thought I’d list the points that stood out to me and comment on them. It may take me a few Sundays worth of posts to do this (there’s so much here to comment on), but I think it’s worthwhile. If you’re a Christian or not, I think you’ll find much of this data to be interesting. Here we go.

More than one out of four American Protestants give away no money at all—”not even a token $5 per year,” say sociologists Christian Smith, Michael Emerson, and Patricia Snell in a new study on Christian giving.

Even the poorest of the poor Americans are much better off than about 99% of the rest of the world. Couldn’t they afford at least a token amount? (And, BTW, the poor give a higher percentage on average than the wealthy — more on that later.)

Of all Christian groups, evangelical Protestants score best: only 10 percent give nothing away. Evangelicals tend to be the most generous, but they do not outperform their peers enough to wear a badge of honor. Thirty-six percent report that they give away less than two percent of their income. Only about 27 percent tithe.

Ok, over one-third give away next to nothing and very few tithe. Guess the “give generously” philosophyisn’t working as well as proponents seem to suggest Just another reason that tithing is — at the least — the minimum Christians should strive to give each year.

American Christians’ lack of generosity might not be as shocking if it didn’t contrast so starkly with their astounding wealth. Passing the Plate’s researchers say committed American Christians—those who say their faith is very important to them and those who attend church at least twice a month—earn more than $2.5 trillion dollars every year. On their own, these Christians could be admitted to the G7, the group of the world’s seven largest economies. Smith and his coauthors estimate that if these Christians gave away 10 percent of their after-tax earnings, they would add another $46 billion to ministry around the world.

Anyone feeling convicted yet? But wait, the amount that could be added is actually much more:

One early finding: That estimate of $46 billion in additional giving is unrealistic. Not because it’s too big, but because it’s too small. Estimating 10 percent giving for every committed Christian in the U.S. neglects two groups: those who truly can’t afford to give 10 percent (due to illness or unemployment or similar reasons), and those who are already giving more than 10 percent (more on this group in a moment). If you calculate that 10 percent of Christians can’t give because of their financial limitations, most of the rest give 10 percent, and a handful of generous givers continue their current generous giving pattern, committed American Christians could realistically increase their giving by $85.5 billion each year.

I’ve often heard it said that if all Christians simply tithed that it would radically change the world. Far fewer people would go hungry, far fewer children would have to live without parents, far less would have to be spent on government programs to help the needy, and so on.

As I read this piece, I was depressed to think how many people of faith are putting their own desires ahead of those of others — really, how selfish many of us are. I hope this article stirs people to consider how they give in 2009 and challenges them to be more generous from here on out.


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