Are Christians Generous? – The Rule of 1/3

Generosity Are Christians generous? I would say, "yes and no." Christianity has been the root of much of the world's generosity–especially toward the downtrodden. Hospitals, children's homes, global health initiatives, adoption, ministries to the homeless, etc. However…

In my class at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures entitled, "The Contrarian's Guide to Church Leadership," I talked about the issue of generosity (or lack thereof) that is a condition in today's churches. I cited a statistic I heard in a training seminar back in 2006. The margin of error is relatively small, and the number holds up regardless of socio-economic, racial, geographic or other demographic figures. Here it is:

  • 1/3 of church members give 0 recordable dollars in a year.
  • 1/3 of church members give between 0 and $500 a year (roughly $10 per week).
  • 1/3 of church members give more than $500 a year (roughly $10 per week).

A couple of other points on this number. If you check on your own congregation…make sure your membership roles are clean and up to date. I believe you'll find it surprisingly on target. It's hit every church I've served or consulted with (50+), with 2 outliers (New Vintage [a church plant] and 1 established church). The other thing…these numbers came out a few years ago, pre-recession, when things were good for people. I doubt they've improved.

I'm interested in the reasons why. Why do you think this is the case? 

Some may say, "Well, people give cash." Perhaps, but cash usually makes up less than 5% of the offering. Others may say, "People give elsewhere." In the research for my doctoral project, I discovered one of the leading indicators of whether someone gives outside the church is whether or not they give regularly to their church. If Christians don't give to their church, they usually don't give much elsewhere either. This is because generosity is worldview-based, not financially-based. The reality is that while some Christians are extremely generous, many if not most aren't–and that's if you generously use a couple of latte's a week toward the church and maybe 2 lattes a year somewhere else as a low benchmark for "generous." That hurts to type…but facts are facts.

Here's why I think it matters: If Jesus said our heart will be where our treasure is and talked about money as often as He did–why don't we talk about this more? Also, I see money issues ruining people's lives, marriages and joy more than anything else. I'm just wondering if that's OK with the church and if it ought to be? I'm also thinking about how much good could be done if Christians gave the way God wants them to…and churches spent the way God wants them to.

Perhaps it's too much to say that Christians aren't generous. Maybe it's more correct to say we are under-generous. I know that generosity can't always be measured in terms of money given–but whether we want to admit it or not, it usually can. Why? Because where our treasure is…there our heart will be also.

Your thoughts? Do these numbers surprise you? What are the issues here? Does it matter?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “Are Christians Generous? – The Rule of 1/3

  1. I have some thoughts on this based on my recent experience in a church. The power brokers were those who gave a fair amount of money to the church and also were involved in pastoral searches and building campaigns over the years. I found them to be a tight-knit group convinced that they knew best how to run things, which leaves newer people out of the loop if this group doesn’t approve of them.
    As I’ve reflected on this experience, I thought about the scripture that says that the love of money is the root of all evil and I find that to be true in the Church as well. We can be deceived into thinking that because we give to the Church that that scripture does not apply to us. However, you can love money so much that it blinds you and even giving to your church can be idolatrous. The people that I referred to above I believe feel a sense of entitlement because of the money, blood, sweat and tears they’ve put in to the organization and the physical plant. The church in effect belongs to them. Thus, love of money. One of these individuals in fact was over stewardship and was so tight with money when it came to outreach that extended beyond the church walls. For so many years the church had so much in-house ministry, that when a shift came in the ministry towards getting outside of the walls, that remained a hard sell years later. Again, I see here idolatry. OUR money for OUR programs and for building up OUR church. People just didn’t seem to understand that you get by giving and that by getting outside of the walls will not hurt the church, but will help the church to extend the gospel as it should be.

  2. My husband and I began married life (59 yrs ago) with God at the top of our ‘leader board’ and kept Him there…okay, we weren’t perfect but we worked at it. We gave to Him first…now we give 25% plus of our income.
    We were in a class w/30 somethings and one of the young men talked about ‘giving’ and mentioned 10% was okay. We’be been where they are; we hadn’t a penny left over each paycheck but oh wow…we were so happy…each day we become even moreso.
    We’ve emptied our savings for Him…and He just continues blessing us. Not only in financial means…my husband was diagnosed a year ago w/a deadly, incurable and very rare condition. Guess what? His seems to be dormant…!
    It’s our prayer that we are an example to others of being generous, having God at the top and everything in line. We can help in so many ways.
    We know God cares for us…the feeling is mutual…we do not ‘worry’ about the future.
    When you abandon yourself to Him…generosity is just one of the blessings.

  3. I agree that Christians today do not give as much as they should in the collection. The passing of the collection plate has become more of a tradition and obligation to tithe then a place to give from the heart to the needs of the church. However I beleive that Christians are the most generous people by far when they have a clear purpose and vision for where the funds are going. I do not think that this is a matter of them giving to only what they think is important, but that they feel that they are truly making an impact in the kingdom because they can see it directly. Sometimes we think that people would rather just throw money at a problem then to make an impact first hand, but I disagree. People want purpose and it is our job as ministers to help them find a purpose in the kingdom. The 80/20 ratio for churches says more about the vision and relationships in the church then it does about people in general. One of our goals as ministers should be to get the 80% to find a purpose in the church and we wont do that by merely asking them for money and attendance, we have to show them how to disciple and form personal relationships with them. If we want strong Christians in our churches we have to give them the tools to become one. People are pue sitters because no one challenges the fact that they are one on a personal level. One phone call could change the status of that person in the church right away and yet we fail to pick up the phone. Looking at the model of Christ, Actions speak louder than words. Give people real life applications not just concepts. Work on their hearts not just their minds. Contributions will follow.