Thoughts On Church Giving: Part 1, The Problem

If you are regular church goer I'm wondering if you have been experiencing something similar to what my wife and I are experiencing. Specifically, it seems harder and harder to drop money in the collection plate.

To be clear, we tithe. But we don't drop all 10% in the collection plate on Sunday morning. We devote some portion of our tithe to the weekly offering, but the rest we spread around to charities or needs where we can give more directly and/or interpersonally.

And that got me wondering. My hunch is that a lot of people give the same way. A small portion goes to the church and the rest is given directly to people with no "middle man."

If that is so, why might that be?

I think a part of this might be a growing disillusionment with the institutional church among my generation and those younger than I. Consequently, dropping all of your tithe into the collection plate just doesn't seem to carry the same cultural weight it once used to. Worse, for some in my generation giving "to the church" might seem like a bad idea. Many are looking for a more direct, spontaneous, and organic way of giving. Less "institutional" if you will.

I'm sure that's a bit of it. But I'm also sure that most of us attend churches (or why else would we be there?) that are doing amazing things with our money. Real social justice stuff. And while I struggle with how much money goes to church buildings, I don't want to free ride. I enjoy the building when I'm in it. The heating, air conditioning, bathrooms and the simple fact that it allows us to gather together. So, I need to either pay my part or start going to a house church.

The point is, for my situation at least, I think my church is a good steward of my money. And if that's the case, why am I still resistant to dropping more into the collection plate?

I think the real reason goes back to looking for a more direct experience with generosity and hospitality. Wanting to live like Jesus people struggle with the impersonal nature of the collection plate. It just doesn't feel right.

So you end up doing something like Jana and I are doing. Splitting the difference. And maybe that's fine. Churches will end up doing less and individuals will start doing more. But the price you pay for that is diffused and random giving. Sometimes you can do more by pooling resources. And that takes bureaucratic coordination and time delays (i.e., I give at Time 1 and the use of the money is at Time 2).

So I wonder if there might be ways where churches can increase the connection between the giver and the ministry. Again, you don't get a "buzz" from dropping a check into the collection plate. Not that you want a buzz per se, but you need some kind of reward circuit for the giving to function as a form of spiritual formation. For you and for your kids.

So, in light of all this, I'm wondering if there might be some ways to improve giving in churches. To somehow harness the collective efforts of the church while increasing the direct contact the individual has with the various ministries of the church.

Basically, I'm going to devote a post or two to thinking through the psychology of giving to give traditional churches some practical ideas that can 1) increase the Sunday morning giving and 2) decrease the distance on Sunday morning between the giver and the ministry it supports.

Of course, I expect many readers will find these recommendations to be fixes for a system that is beyond fixing. Trying to pour new wine into old wineskins. That may be. But my working assumption--my "experiment" as it were--is to assume that the traditional church, with its various ministries and weekly collections, has a place to play in the Kingdom. That's the assumption I'll be working with. So, if you work at a traditional church or are involved in a ministry that is funded by a church you might want to tune in this week.

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts On Church Giving: Part 1, The Problem”

  1. Richard, Interesting post. I come from a traditional, " mainline" denomination. We give lip service to the tithe, but tithing is not a normative practice among our members. Many years ago our denomination offered a helpful suggestion about tithing in light cultural approaches to charity and the meeting of social needs -- namely, half of your tithe (that is, 5%) should go to the congregation to which you belong and the other half is to be used at your discretion. You may choose to give the discretionary portion to your congregation or distribute it to other charitable causes.

  2. I currently work with an organization known as Relational Tithe that is exploring this very idea. Currently, we offer people the opportunity to participate in relational redistribution--i.e., through clusters of individuals that give $$$ to a common pot and then decide how to relationally redistribute it to those who have need.

    As a pastor serving a traditional congregation, I have found, in the past, that these two worlds don't often meet--i.e., the Relational Tithe world and the traditional giving model of the church. And yet, we, as a collective of people in RT, are still discussing, thinking, exploring ways in which this idea might find a home within the church. We haven't found a clear answer yet, nor do we expect to necessarily, but what we do hope will happen is that people will begin to think about giving in a whole new way and compare that with the notion of institutionalized giving. Some key questions we're asking: Can "giving" within the church look different than it does now--i.e., an institutional funnel that keeps a lot 'within' the funnel itself? How can we empower individuals and churches to reinvent the ways in which they give and to what they give? etc, etc.

    I'll look forward to the coming posts.

  3. I think that is a good system. I've never been in a church who made a recommendation like that explicit to the parishioners.

  4. I hope it won't be long until the corporate churches cast off the pretense and start charging a membership fee to cover overhead. At that piont, those churches could begin to distinguish between the resources devoted to institutional preservation - "services rendered" to the "membership" - and the resources devoted to outreach, benevolence, etc. And the annual, guilt-motivated "stewardship series" from the pulpit could be a thing of the past as we simply ask members to follow their prayer-soaked consciences. From time to time there will be campaigns better suited to whole-church involvement, with details, a budget, and a timeline provided from the pulpit. Let corporate-style churches sink or swim on their corporate revenue! And let the "members" know how much they are paying their executives to compete in the community marketplace to get those cheeks in the seats!

    The more I think about it, the more I like it.



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