What church leaders need to know about new giving trends

by Clif Christopher

Ten years ago, in Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, I voiced my concern that giving to religion, as a share of overall giving, had fallen significantly over the last several decades and was half of what it once was. At the time, the giving trends indicated that if we did not change the way we do overall stewardship in the church, the decline in giving would continue. Well, now it has happened!

For the first time ever, giving to religion as a percent of overall charitable donations has dropped below 30%.

For 2018, Giving USA reports gifts to religious organizations are down 1.5% to just 29% of total charitable giving. Total giving to charity rose to 427 billion dollars, but this came more from foundations and corporations and not from individuals–the church’s primary revenue source. On average, Americans gave away only 1.9% of their disposable income.

These giving trends are as alarming to me today as they were back in 2008 when I first rang the bell of concern. Financial resources are not our mission, but they are the fuel that propels the mission.

Without money, there can be no mission and no ministry in these days when the faith is struggling around the world.

What caused the latest decline? Some will blame the last tax law changes that significantly increased the standard deduction and thus reduced the number of people who itemize. Others will say that it just reflects that fewer people are in church and the world is more secular. I do not buy into the theory that the causes are all external and thus any solution must be external. I still hold to the conviction that the solution is within the church to save the church, but we have avoided the hard work necessary to make the cultural adjustment to get it done. In the strongest possible way, I am encouraging you to re-examine how you are teaching and preaching financial stewardship. How are you moving your church away from the stewardship methods of the 20th century and responding to a new 21st century culture?

How will you respond to the latest giving trends?

You do not need the new 2019 annual campaign in a box. You may not even need a capital campaign. What you do need is a systematic long-term culture shift that creates not just funds for the budget but generous hearts and minds. As I shared in my latest book God vs. Money, you need a Battle Plan.

Right now, many of you are thinking about what you are going to do for a fall stewardship emphasis. That is fine, but that is not going to fix the problem. Let me encourage you to form your fall campaign committee and put them to work if you must, but at the same time form another group that will go to work on a Battle Plan for generosity to change your whole church. If you are brave enough, go ahead and start to execute the plan ASAP and just skip the old approach. Why would you think just doing the same old thing will produce a different result? You may not be able to change America’s giving to religion, but you sure can do something to change your congregation to be generous followers of Christ.

Kelly Johannessen