What Denominations Take Tithing Most Seriously?

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January 31, 2011; Source: Christianity Today | How much of your income do you devote to charitable giving? According to emptytomb.org, Christians donated 2.43 percent of their income in 2008, down from 2.57 percent in 2007. Evangelicals give an estimated 4 percent. Those are solid proportions compared to all Americans, but less than a 10 percent tithe.

Should Christians give 10 percent? Ron Sider author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, says that a giving rate of 2.43 percent "is not just stinginess, it is biblical disobedience – blatant sin." He calls for giving 10, 15, 25, or even 35 percent "to kingdom work," suggesting that giving double a tithe annual would not leave many people anywhere near poverty.

Brian Kluth, author of GiveWithJoy.org’s eDevotional, thinks that churches have turned to focusing on raising money for the "'budget' instead of the Bible . . . [so] (i)f the 'budget' is okay, many churches won't speak on the finance/generosity subject." The budget emphasis, accordin to Kluth, makes giving "a duty and drudgery, not . . . a delight that God desires it to be."

A minister named Douglas Wilson suggests looking at some positives in the numbers: "Evangelicals are more generous than mainliners, Protestants are more generous than Catholics, Christians are more generous than secularists, and Americans are far more generous than everybody else in the world." Although Christians as a population aren't tithing, the American Enterprise Institute's Arthur Brooks notes that no one else is held to that standard, so it's absurd to criticize evangelicals for falling short of tithing when they appear to be the most charitably generous of Christians.

Could Christians give more? No one argues that Christians and all Americans could be more generous. Generally, lower income people and working people devote the highest proportions of their income to charity. But University of Connecticut sociology professor, Bradley Wright, suggests that we don't quite know enough about what makes people give. "There's a lot more to know before we can effectively increase Christian long-term patterns of giving," he said. "In short, we may not know enough now to change Christian stinginess."—Rick Cohen

  • BSR

    Very interesting article.
    It would also have been interesting to see USA tithing statistics from the past 2 years (since this current recession and widespread unemployment began).
    After all, you can’t tithe money from a no-income status.
    Perhaps people suffering from layoffs tithed on unemployment disbursements or simply increased the tithe of their time to their faith organization of choice…?

  • rick cohen

    Dear BSR: You’re right, the numbers for 2009 and 2010 would be very revealing, since the recession really didn’t hit in a major way until the last quarter of 2008. You’re right people can’t tithe from a no-income status, but I also remember the excellent report from the UK some years ago titled, biblically, The Widow’s Mite, which pointed out very clearly how the most generous donors were those with low or limited incomes, and those who were in some ways closest in experience and condition to the people in need of their charitable generosity. The same was demonstrated in the first and last report of the Council of Economic Advisors (under Clinton) demonstrating that the lowest quintile of the population (with a positive net worth) was by far the most generous with giving as a proportion of income and wealth. You’ve of course raised another issue, in essence asking how fungible charitable giving (money) and volunteering (time) are, whether donors might tithe from their time as opposed to their empty wallets. If you’ve seen good data on these issue, please send them along. Thanks for commenting.

  • Howard Freeman

    I work for a large church in a major city, and we made our budget last year and missed in 2009 only by 5%, which is not bad considering many in our congregation were or are employed by the financial services sector. Brian Kluth has good stats on how churches have fared so far, and Giving USA found that religious orgs were flat, which is also good in light of the recession.

  • John Godfrey

    It would be interesting to read a follow-up article about other faiths for whom tithing is also a concept – Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and so on. Any views?


  • rick cohen

    would be great to see. I hope NPQ readers send in information.

  • Brian Kluth

    Thanks for referencing my quote in your article. Recently we conducted national research (http://www.STATEofthePLATE.info View from the Pew research) among over 800 adults that DO give 10% or more of their income to Christian and/or charitable organizations. The interesting statistic we discovered is that 60% of adults that “tithe/plus” today, started this practice in their 20’s or while growing up at home. For many people of faith, giving is not an economic convenience but instead is a personal conviction/priority/practice. Generosity is based more on a heart decision and personal choice than level of wealth.