Ah, yes. The topic everyone has an opinion on, and a topic most people even agree on: churches should spend a whole lot less time talking about and asking for my money. But why do churches take offerings, preach about giving, hold “Stewardship” Sundays and even hold fundraisers?
The answer has to do with two things: faithfulness and need. I mean, sure, there are the televangelists of the world who fly around in private jets and give the impression that churches are getting rich off the backs of the people, but those are the loud exceptions that make people think they are the rule. The reality for the vast majority of churches is far different – and a constant struggle to meet the needs of their mission while remaining faithful to that mission.
The truth is, churches talk about money for two primary reasons:
- The Bible talks about money – a lot – and the Church has a responsibility to preach the whole counsel of God, not just the easy parts. Christians are called upon to give back to God through the local church and to provide for those in need – and we all need to be taught and reminded to put others before ourselves.
- Churches are non-profit organizations which struggle to meet the costs of ministry. This is because on average, just 20% of the members of a congregation fund 80% of the costs, and because most people have no idea how many costs go into running the ministries which they themselves utilize and depend on.
Think about those two things for a minute, and then let’s break this down further. Beginning with God’s teaching and instructions to us:
- The love and mercy of God and His promise of salvation are eternal; money and possessions are temporary.
- Money, because of the illusion of power, control and security attributed to it, gets in the way of a trust relationship with the only truly secure and powerful provider who is in control, God.
- We are commanded to give – regularly and consistently – out of a generous heart.
- We owe God all we have; even our money and possessions come ultimately from Him, especially when you consider that the very ability we have to work and earn money comes from our Creator.
- God has given us life, His Son, saving faith and everlasting life. Surely it would follow that we would be grateful enough to give back to Him through His Church.
- God blesses us in our giving in innumerable ways: through our relationships, in our bodies and sometimes even financially – but the blessings we have are for a purpose: we are blessed to be a blessing to others.
Now, let’s look at some statistics that reflect how people typically respond to all of the above, and maybe it will become clear why churches need to continue to teach people about giving (all statistics are specific to the U.S.A.):
- Tithers (those who give 10% of their income, the biblical starting point for giving) make up only 10-25% of a typical congregation.
- Only 5% of Americans give away 10% of their income to any charity, and 80% give just 2%.
- Christians today give away 2.5% of their income; during the Great Depression they gave 3.3%.
- For families making $75,000+/year, 1% of them gave at least 10% away.
- The average adult who attends a Protestant church gives $17/week, or $884/year.
- 50% of Americans spend more than $20/week on coffee, or $1,040/year.
- 37% of regular church attenders give nothing to the church.
- 77% of those who tithe don’t stop there; they actually give 11%–20% or more of their income.
Christianity is about justification: being saved by grace through faith, and sanctification: growing in your faith as a person. Justification (salvation) is free and undeserved, 100% God/0% us. Sanctification, on the other hand, is about how we respond to our salvation in relationship to others. Sanctification is God working in and through us, as we love our neighbors. Churches teach both – they teach the whole counsel of God – to convict people in their sins, to proclaim to them God’s forgiveness (justification), and to encourage them to grow in their response to that forgiveness (sanctification). The latter includes the giving of money.
But why should somebody give their money to the Church? Isn’t giving to charity still considered “giving back?” Well, that is what non-Christians call it: “giving back.” But who are they giving back to? Society? The world? The universe?
As Christians, we owe everything to God, and we give back to Him first, before we give to anyone or anything else. In fact, He calls on us to trust Him enough to give to Him first, and see if He doesn’t give us enough to take care of our other needs. And the way we give back to God is by giving to His Church, in our local congregation. There are three reasons for this:
- You have been called into your local congregation by God, and you have seen fit to commit to membership in it. It is the local outpost of the entire Church universal, and the ministries done there are done in the service of Christ and the whole Church. You are there because you believe in the work and ministries of that congregation, and for that reason, it is your duty as a member to support it financially.
- You are personally benefiting from your local church. That chair or pew you’re sitting on? The air conditioning or heat that keeps you comfortable? The pipe organ, piano, band instruments, microphones and sound system that elevate worship? The screens, projectors, lights, water and more – all of it costs a lot of money for purchase and upkeep. The building you’re in has a mortgage, utilities and maintenance costs. The pastor and staff have salaries and benefits. The ministries, programs and events all cost money for advertising, food and supplies. And these are just some of the many, many expenses involved in creating and maintaining ministry, and are just a few of the reasons that church members carry the obligation of financial support for their congregation. They do so through their tithes (base giving, 10% of your income to support the ministries of the church), offerings (all giving over and above the tithe) and special gifts* (specified giving for special projects or to support missionaries, etc.).
- Your local church depends entirely – 100% – on member giving. If people don’t give, ministry suffers. If ministry suffers, attendance declines. If attendance declines, ministry suffers even more. Without the faithful financial support of its members, the local congregation cannot survive.
When taken altogether, it makes a lot of sense why churches talk about money and take offerings, doesn’t it? They do it because God commands it, because we need to grow in our faith walk, and because we belong to an organization that we believe in, which serves us, and which depends wholly on our financial support to exist.
So the next time your pastor talks about money, the next time the pledge cards come out, the next time the Stewardship drive is in the bulletin – instead of getting angry over it, try praying about it – and be open to the answer God gives you.
*A note on special gifts: these should be given above and beyond your tithe. Tithes and offerings go to the church’s general fund, to be used as needed. Special gifts are one-time or limited time gifts that are for specified needs, after the general fund needs are met. A true financial gift is given without strings attached, and should never be used as ‘leverage’ to get something you want, but may be given toward a specified need for which you feel led to give.