By Jayson D. Bailey
The state of church giving is in transition. The Giving Institute said in a 2015 press release that while charitable giving is up in the United States, the percentage of that giving going to churches has dropped from 53 percent in 1987 to 32 percent in 2015. Churches everywhere are feeling this dramatic slide.
We’ve pulled together some statistics that tell an interesting story about the financial habits and giving patterns in America.
2019 CHURCH GIVING REPORT
As a pastor, it’s hard to know whether your experience is the norm. You might look at your church’s giving habits and wonder what other churches experience. Here are some statistics to give you a little more insight into the giving habits of Christians everywhere.
1. TITHERS ONLY MAKE UP 10–25 PERCENT OF ANY CONGREGATION
Setting aside the argument about whether God intends Christians to tithe or not, the number of people who give at least ten percent of their income to the church is less than a quarter. This is further proof that the Pareto principle (or the 80/20 rule) is alive and well.
But we shouldn’t assume that there’s no way around it. Through intentional and strategic teaching—as well as facilitating the giving experiences that people are most comfortable with—it’s possible to increase the percentage of Christians who view giving as an essential expression of their faith.
2. 8/10 PEOPLE WHO GIVE TO CHURCHES HAVE ZERO CREDIT CARD DEBT
When you look at the things that consistent givers have in common, this is one of the most obvious. There are a lot of people who want to give but feel like they’re in a financial position that precludes it.
In a culture that is continually pushing people to purchase what they cannot afford, the church should make a concerted effort to educate and free people so they can live more productive and generous lives without the constant stress that comes from debt.
3. RELIGIOUS GIVING IS DOWN ABOUT 50% SINCE 1990
If you feel like you’re pulling teeth to get people in your congregation to give, you’re not alone. In fewer than twenty years, religious giving has dropped by half. How can we account for that? A lot of that has to do with an increase of the “Nones.” The same New York Times article that spawned this statistic also noted that between 2007 and 2016, the unchurched in America jumped from 16 percent to 23 percent.
4. ON AVERAGE, CHRISTIANS GIVE 2.5% OF THEIR INCOME TO CHURCHES
During the Great Depression, they gave 3.3%. (Nonprofit Source, 2018)
It’s crazy to think that Depression-era giving was higher than it is now. It seems like we live in an era of great wealth and opportunity. Why wouldn’t people give more? There are a lot of potential reasons.
During the Depression, people relied more on generosity to make ends meet. This sort of shared struggle tends to bring people together and helps them understand the value of community. Because everyone was in a battle to survive, people were willing to forego luxuries to ensure they could meet each other’s needs.
It’s harder to justify a near one percent dip in giving for post-modern Christians.
5. OF FAMILIES THAT MAKE $75,000+, ONLY 1% DONATED 1/10 OF THEIR INCOME
According to a 2015 Sharefaith article, people with a salary of less than $20,000 are eight times more likely to give than someone who makes $75,000.
In the parable of the soils, Jesus talks about the seed sown among the thorns. Of that seed, he said that “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
We’re often deceived by convincing ourselves that the expectations placed upon us are too high. People in higher income brackets are often paying more than their fair share in taxes. It’s easy for churches to feel like another hand in their pocket.
This is why consistent financial teaching is so critical. For wealthier congregants to understand the idea of stewardship, it needs to be regularly reinforced. It’s not a mindset that comes naturally to our culture.
6. PEOPLE WHO ATTEND 27+ CHURCH SERVICES A YEAR GIVE AN AVERAGE OF $2,935 TO CHARITY
People who never attend religious services give an average of $704. (Philanthropy Roundtable, 2013)
Here’s some good giving news for a change. Regular church attendance has a positive effect on church members. Being part of a religious community does make people more generous than their peers.
7. 96% OF PRACTICING CHRISTIANS HAVE GIVEN TO A CHURCH OR NONPROFIT
This contrasts with 60 percent of atheist and agnostics. (Barna Group, 2016)
It’s not just church attendance that promotes generosity. It seems that faith itself might play a role in who typically gives. This means that it’s the church’s job to fan that ember into a roaring flame of open-handed living.
8. 32% OF ALL DONATIONS GO TO RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
A lot of good is done through charitable giving. People have an opportunity to give to charities that focus on things like…
- Human services
- Public benefit
- International aid
- Environmental protection
But religious organizations are still receiving the most significant share of donation dollars—and most of this happens as people give in their local places of worship. It’s critical that churches use these funds in the most responsible and beneficial ways possible.
9. 31% OF CHARITABLE GIVING HAPPENS IN DECEMBER
Think about this statistic for a moment. Nearly one-third of all giving happens in the twelfth month? That can only mean one thing. If you’re not doing an end-of-the-year-giving push, you’re missing out.
10. 73% OF CHURCH GIVING HAPPENS THROUGHOUT THE WEEK
Most churches prioritize a giving model that focuses all of the heavy lifting on a two–five-minute window on Sunday morning. So it makes sense that Sunday is the highest giving day of the week (27 percent), but that still means that 73 percent of giving happens at other times—including impulsive middle-of-the-night giving (more than 30 percent comes between the hours of 9 PM and 6 AM).
If you don’t have an online-giving platform (preferably mobile) that allows people to give whenever the impulse strikes, you’re missing out. And it’s likely that people are finding other places to give.
11. BABY BOOMERS (1946–1964) MAKE UP 41.6% OF THE DONOR POPULATION AND 30.2% OF THE US POPULATION
The youngest boomers are 54 years old. And this group makes up almost half of the church’s giving. This is particularly troubling when you start to look at the giving habits of the generations that come after them.
12. GEN. X (1965–1980) MAKES UP 19% OF ALL DONORS AND ACCOUNT FOR 26.6% OF THE POPULATION
The generation immediately following the Boomers only makes up less than a fifth of the entire giving population. While many giving discussions tend to focus on Boomers and Millennials, more than a quarter of the US population is 36–53 years old. It’s probably time to focus on this invisible demographic.
13. GEN Y (1981–1997) ARE 7.1% OF DONORS AND 30.4% OF THE POPULATION OF THE US
Here we see why the church has expressed such an interest in Millennials and Gen Y. They make up the largest segment of the population.
The Greatest Generation (1900–1927), the Silent Generation (1928–1945), and Boomers make up 78.8 percent of total church giving. As the church faces the eventual loss of these generations, we find ourselves in a precarious situation.
The church is going to have to think about evangelism differently than it has in previous decades. The future of the church depends upon it. It’s also time that we assume responsibility to reinforce and demonstrate what generosity looks like.
Lastly, we desperately need to change traditions that are no longer serving us. If we want to minister to a generation that’s grown up with tech solutions to everyday problems, we need to meet them where they’re at. This means that we move away from trying to communicate to them with things like paper bulletins and sign-up lists. This also means we can’t place expectations on them to give in ways that don’t make sense to them.
They represent the largest demographic, and if they’re more comfortable using mobile devices to engage and give, it seems like a bad move not to assist them.
14. 60% OF MILLENNIALS DONATE AN AVERAGE OF $481 TO NONPROFITS EVERY YEAR
Churches need to recognize that it’s not that Millennials aren’t givers, they just don’t share the default opinion of prior generations that giving charitable money to the church is the best way for donations to be distributed. They want to know where it’s going and how it’s being used.
Churches who want to engage Millennial donors are faced with the challenge of demonstrating the good that they’re doing in their communities and around the world.
STATISTICS RELATED TO DIGITAL GIVING
The landscape of giving is changing. It’s becoming increasingly easier to collect and distribute donations. People are growing comfortable using online-giving solutions to share their wealth with others. Let’s look at a few digital-giving statistics.
15. ONLY 14% OF CHURCHGOERS WANT GIVING ENVELOPES AVAILABLE FOR CHECKS AND CASH
A majority (68 percent) want digital options. (State of the plate, 2016)
Online giving isn’t just a tool for accommodating Millennials. The truth is that society is heading in a digital direction. The percentage of people who want to retain the giving status quo is dwindling. You don’t have to abandon them as you begin to prioritize other donation methods.
16. RECURRING GIVERS ANNUALLY DONATE 42% MORE THAN ONE-TIME DONORS
Recurring giving allows people to sign up for giving automatically every month, and it might be the church’s best hope. This means that every giving message doesn’t have to spur one-time generosity. Instead, you can challenge members to make a commitment that’s much easier for them to stick to. It’s not dependent upon whether they come to church or how they feel about giving at any particular moment.
17. DONORS AGED 40–59 WHO WOULD LIKELY GIVE ONLINE WENT UP FROM 20% FROM 2010 TO 2015
It’s not a surprise that the percentage of people comfortable with online giving continues to expand. In five years, it’s gone from less than half of middle-aged people to almost three-quarters. You can trust that this number will only grow.
STATISTICS RELATED TO THE RISE OF MOBILE GIVING
When it comes to disruptive technologies, mobile computing is up there with the printing press, assembly line, automobile, and the internet. Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, and in less than ten years, the smartphone has almost completely revolutionized life on the planet.
Here’s a look at the changes it’s introduced in the financial and giving space.
18. 39% OF SMARTPHONE OWNERS USED THEIR PHONE TO PAY A BILL IN THE LAST MONTH
People are becoming more and more comfortable using their phones to take care of their daily financial needs. This statistic only points to the people who have paid a bill in the last month. The number is likely considerably higher when you look at the previous quarter or year.
19. 44% OF MILLENNIALS PREFER TO USE THEIR MOBILE PHONES TO MAKE SMALL PURCHASES
Again, when we look at the behavior of the largest living generation, we get a glimpse the changes to come. Nearly half of all Millennials don’t want mess around with cash for even small purchases. In fact, they’re not really that interested in debit or credit cards. They’d much rather buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks using Apple Pay or pay their babysitter using Zelle.
It’s one thing to talk about using mobile to pay a bill or make a donation, but when you see more and more people using their mobile device to pay for everyday items like magazines and jeans, you know that it’s becoming more embedded in everyday life.
20. MOBILE GIVING DONATIONS INCREASED 205% IN 2015
If you think about it, this only makes sense. Giving often happens spontaneously. Someone may feel encouraged to give after watching a documentary on Netflix, reading a news story, or watching a sermon on YouTube. And since they’re doing these things on their phones (or with them nearby), they can respond immediately.
STATISTICS ABOUT AMERICAN FINANCIAL HABITS
When we stop to consider the state of church giving, it’s helpful to look at the typical financial behavior behind these patterns. What is the financial situation of the average American? How do they spend their money?
21. NEARLY 1/3 OF AMERICANS PAY THE MINIMUM ON THEIR CREDIT CARD EVERY MONTH
The typical reason for paying the minimum is that the amount owed is too much to manage. According to a 2016 Time article, the average US household carries $16,061 in credit card debt.
By paying the minimum amount, they’re going to spend way more on interest. According to Nerdwallet, the average home with revolving credit card debt pays $904 in interest every year. That’s money that could be going toward generosity.
22. THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE AGE 60+ WITH STUDENT LOAN DEBT QUADRUPLED OVER THE LAST DECADE
We tend to think of student debt as being a problem for younger generations. The sad truth is that its impact is being felt across the entire generational spectrum. When coupled with consumer debt, there’s an increasing and significant financial stress on many of the people in your congregation.
23. ONLY 24 PERCENT OF MILLENNIALS DEMONSTRATE BASIC FINANCIAL LITERACY
Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of books, articles, and blog posts that seem to have an anti-Millennial bias. We definitely don’t want to jump on that bandwagon. It’s important to recognize that the responsibility for any deficiencies demonstrated by the current generation in regards to money should be laid at the feet of the generations that raised and educated them.
If churches want to see Millennials thrive and be generous members of their churches, they should look for opportunities to help them grow in their understanding of and mastery over their finances.
24. 74% OF AMERICANS WRITE NO MORE THAN ONE CHECK EVERY MONTH
The way Americans handle their money is changing. If nearly three-quarters of Americans are only writing one check a month, it’s probably time for churches to get away from checks as a prioritized form of currency.
25. ABOUT 80% OF AMERICANS CARRY $50 CASH OR LESS
And nine percent don’t carry any cash at all.
It’s not just checks that people are less reliant upon; they’re also carrying less cash. A 2017 CNBC article suggested that this statistic was even lower, with 76 percent percent of people carrying less $50 and nearly half with less than $20 on them at any moment.
It would seem that if your church is dependent upon passing the offering plate, your giving will be considerably lower than it should be.
Are You Ready to Go Mobile? The fact that people are using their mobile devices to manage their finances isn’t a trend—it’s an inevitability. The increasing convenience and security make it virtually inescapable. It’s time for churches to place greater emphasis on mobile giving. Statistics show a shift in the way people view currency. The more you rely on physical forms of currency (cash and checks), the more you’re negatively impacting your bottom line.
It’s not enough just to offer a mobile giving option—the time has come to prioritize it. Ultimately, the spiritual discipline of giving will have an entirely digital expression in the future. If you want to see how you could benefit from a tithing software like Pushpay—or a native church app that brings your congregational communication, engagement, and giving into one seamless package—contact Pushpay for a free demo!
Church giving statistics don’t end here. There’s a lot more the church should know about as the digital age advances and people’s giving habits change. To learn more about the important trends that are affecting generosity in your community, click here to download a free copy of the 2018 Digital Giving Trends in The Church today.
Jayson D. Bradley is a writer and pastor in Bellingham, WA. He’s a regular contributor to Relevant Magazine, and his blog JaysonDBradley.com has been voted one of the 25 Christian blogs you should be reading.