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.

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