News

Churchgoers say gifts to charity, needy count as tithing

The collection plate is passed during Easter Sunday services at a chapel. Image courtesy the U.S. National Archives.

(RNS) — Most Protestant churchgoers believe that giving 10 percent of their income is a biblical requirement they should follow but they define the practice of tithing in a variety of ways, a new survey shows.

About half say they can give their tithes to a Christian ministry instead of a church. One in 3 say tithes can go to help a person who is in need. And more than 1 in 6 say their funds can go to a secular charity.

“For many churchgoers, tithing is just another term for generosity,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn., of the findings released Thursday (May 10).

The evangelical research firm surveyed 1,010 Americans who attend a Protestant or nondenominational church at least monthly. It also queried 1,000 Protestant senior pastors.

Pastors are less likely than people in the pews to view tithing as a continuing biblical command.

Graphic courtesy LifeWay Research

While 83 percent of churchgoers say tithing is a current requirement, 72 percent of pastors agree.

Pastors who affirm that tithing is a biblical command don’t agree on how to define it. More than half (56 percent) say it should be one-tenth of an individual’s gross income. Seventeen percent say it should be one-tenth of net income. Eleven percent say it is “whatever amount a person regularly sets aside to give” and 7 percent say it is “whatever amount a person actually gives.”

Among churchgoers, large majorities in different regions and of different races said tithing should continue today: 85 percent of Southerners, 74 percent of Northerners, 87 percent of African-Americans and 80 percent of whites.

Graphic courtesy LifeWay Research

Those with evangelical beliefs were more likely (86 percent) to view tithing as a current biblical demand than those without them (79 percent). Those attending church services at least weekly were more likely (85 percent) to have that view than those attending once or twice monthly (71 percent).

More than half of churchgoers (54 percent) give a tenth or more of their income to their church while 1 in 5 said they give regularly but less than 10 percent and a similar number say they try to give but are not always consistent. Eight percent say their finances make it difficult to donate and 2 percent reported not giving to their church.


RELATED: Strong link found between worship attendance and religious giving


“Even those who can’t tithe believe that giving matters,” said McConnell. “Most churchgoers say they give — even if it’s a struggle.”

Of those who do give, most often do so in a personal way — contributing cash or a check at church. Eleven percent use their church website for giving, and smaller percentages use automatic payments or a church app, though some give using more than one method.

Graphic courtesy LifeWay Research.

“Giving is considered an act of worship — and clicking on a mouse may not feel as holy as putting your offering in the collection plate,” McConnell said.

The overall sample of churchgoers, surveyed Aug. 22-30, 2017, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The overall sample of clergy, surveyed Aug. 30-Sept. 18, 2017, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

29 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Giving to charities does a lot more good than throwing 10% in the collection plate so Pastor Gold Teeth can buy a new Mercedes.

  • Tithing is giving money to the use of God and the first place should be the church.

  • Paying taxes is tithing. The portion of tax dollars that go to welfare and social services is taxpayers tithe.

    My point here is not cop-out—‘I’m paying taxes I don’t need to give to charity’. But that government distribution is a more efficient way to do the job that currently a hodgepodge of churches and charities do. Each maintains its own staff, each has to spend big on advertising and publicity to wheedle money out of donors on whose goodwill they depend. And goodwill is in short supply.

    The most effective, efficient, dependable way to way to do the job that charities do is to support a strong welfare state. And if you don’t believe it take a look at European countries. I’m living in one right now and it’s great.

  • Without knowing which one, “it’s great” may or may not be correct.

    The shift to a welfare state was one of the consequences of the Reformation, which effectively put churches out of the welfare business.

  • “About half say they can give their tithes to a Christian ministry
    instead of a church. One in 3 say tithes can go to help a person who is in need. And more than 1 in 6 say their funds can go to a secular charity.”

    A lot of people believe in being generous with someone else’s money. Any personal charity comes after tithing is paid.

  • If you have no choice whether you pay it, it isn’t charity, and if it isn’t going to a church it isn’t tithing. As for how great welfare states are, how many are living within their means? AFAIK, not a one. Sooner or later, it’ll be time to pay the piper.

  • The original tithe went three ways: 1) to feed the Levites (priestly tribe), who had no land and had their inheritance solely in the Lord; 2) to feed the widows, orphans, and immigrants; and 3) every so often, I think three years, to gather together and celebrate God’s bounty to the nation.

  • Her proper name is Sandimonious. Please be respectful. /s

    Her problem is that she over identifies with god. She not only knows what’s in my wallet, she is privy to the relationship of god with everyone else on the planet.

  • Yeah, ’cause when the church gets big enough they have to start hiring full-time pipers and other musicians.

  • The purpose of charity isn’t to provide moral benefits for givers but material benefits for receivers. People are by and large selfish and stingy, and aren’t likely to give an much voluntarily as they will involuntarily if the government squeezes it out of them. In fact welfare states are living within their means–they just squeeze lots out of their citizens through taxes. It’s the US that isn’t living within its means, having cut taxes.

  • Tithing is compulsory, it is not charity. Your remarks about a strong welfare state sound like sour grapes.

    My in laws owe their lives to living in a country with as robust economy and socialized medicine. If they lived here they would have died by now or been bankrupted, treating their health issues.

  • You’re wrong, charity is as much for the giver is the receiver. I have higher hopes for my country than to be a mass of Scrooges forced to cough up funds that the needy see as their right to receive. As for welfare states living within their means, do you know of any without budget deficits? I don’t.

  • Giving money to God, properly speaking, should involve giving much of that money, in turn, to people in need (Mt 22:36-40 and 25:35-45). This perspective does not ignore legitimate needs (salaries, maintenance, supplies, equipment, etc.) of churches.

  • So, you’re saying that if they lived here, evolution would apply and the species would be improved?

  • There’s a priest, a minister, and a rabbi. They’re out playing golf, and they’re trying to decide how much to give to charity. So the priest says, “We’ll draw a circle on the ground, we’ll throw the money way up in the air, and whatever lands inside the circle, we give to charity.” The minster says no. “We’ll draw a circle on the ground, throw the money way up in the air, and whatever lands outside of the circle, that’s what we’ll give to charity.” The rabbi says “No, no, no. We’ll throw the money way up in the air, and whatever God wants, he keeps!”

    https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Short_Circuit_(1986_film)

  • Christians need to be aware of what their Tithe buys. If it is Trumpism or support of all this Evangelical lying on civic issues, put your money somewhere else. There are thousands of people on the street who need your help.

  • I’ve heard theologians argue for and against tithing, what meets the definition and what does not, I trust that God knows the heart of thee giver.

  • Tithing is a good starting point for all believers. Gross/net … whatever, giving 10% is a good starting point. But, Jesus taught that we were stewards, responsible to God for how we handle/use our resources. Personally I’d rather have members who are good stewards of their time, talents, etc. as work together to advance the Gospel of Christ. People who are good stewards of their time and talents for God invariably are good stewards of their financial resources. And churches composed of members who are good stewards generally demonstrate that same quality with their hearts and with their hands.

  • Once you’ve reproduced and passed on your genes, what happens afterwards is meaningless.

  • I always encourage Christians who are active in a particular congregation to give 10% of their gross income to their congregation in person in the offering plate (not online). If you believe in what your local congregation is doing, you should support it. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be there.

    If there are other charities or missions they wish to support they should support those after their local congregation.

    If a Christian is not part of a local congregation, his or her tithe can be directed to a worthy charity or cause.

    Give until it hurts a bit.

ADVERTISEMENTs