Americans are giving their churches more money but a smaller portion of their yearly income, says a new study of all mainstream and evangelical Protestant denominations.
Churchgoers in 2001 gave nearly twice as much per church member as they did in 1968, $631 compared to $368, adjusted for inflation, says the study by empty tomb inc., a Christian service and research group in Champaign, Ill.
The percentage of churchgoers’ income that went to churches was 2.66 percent in 2001, up from a low of 2.4 percent in 1992, but still below the 1968 level of 3.1 percent, says the 13th annual State of Church Giving study.
Members of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches gave a total of $52 billion to churches in 2001, but they could have added an additional $143 billion had they contributed 10 percent of their income, the “tithe” requested by many churches, the study says.
“The church is not engaging people at the same degree as in previous decades and it is not getting people involved enough in church issues”, says Sylvia Ronsvalle, co-author of the study and vice president of Empty Tomb.
Churchgoers can make donations either to congregational finances, such as pastor and staff salaries, utilities and Sunday school materials, or to “benevolences,” including seminaries, regional and national offices, international ministries, and local, national and international aid programs.
Fifteen cents of every donated dollar funded benevolences in 2001, down from 21 cents in 1968.
Donations for benevolences may be down because churches find it easier to ask for money for tangible, local congregational projects like constructing buildings, she says, rather than to ask hard questions about members’ responsibilities to address the social ills of the world.
“The church is not at the forefront on social issues any more and is not communicating with its members”, says Ronsvalle. “People don’t have the same moral outrage as in prior decades about tragedies like children dying around the world.”