I haven’t believed that tithing (tenthing) is a Biblical requirement for Christians since the mid-seventies, when I studied the subject exhaustively. Further studies into the Hebraic background of tithing have subsequently confirmed and reinforced that earlier view. However, I realize that many Christians do feel that failure to tithe is “robbing God.”
If you tithe — that is, give the Church a tenth of your income — you are actually exceeding the national average of Christians by a considerable percentage. A recent study by Empty Tomb, Inc. has determined that between 1994 and 1995, the average church member contributed 2.46% (or $498.20/year) of his or her income to the Church. This was sharply down from 1968, at which time the average was 3.11%.
The biggest decline shows up in evangelical — that is conservative — churches, many of which aggressively teach tithing. In 1968, evangelicals gave 6% of their income. By 1995, that figure had dropped to 4%. Mainline givers gave a paltry 2.9% in 1995, compared to 3.3% in 1968.
What do these trends mean?
The people who conducted the survey of 29 denominations did not devote much energy to interpreting their findings. They suggested that evangelicals may be moving more toward the cultural mainstream, and that other Christians may be giving more money to non-denominational churches.
The survey’s findings suggest another possibility: that Christians are finding less and less in their churches to support. In our difficult times, money is precious. Most of us don’t have much of it. In terms of constant dollars, wages have not even come close to keeping up with inflation since the 60s. That’s why more and more family members have to contribute to the family pot. Consequently, we have to prioritize our outgo. If we are going to give to a religious organization, we’re going to have to feel that it is doing something meaningful — either for us, or for the world. We must believe it is doing something we can get behind with our “substance.”
When we look at charitable organizations, we typically want to know how much of our money will go to top-heavy administration, and how much to the primary work for which the organization was created. We oughtto ask the same question of churches.
If a church is spending most of the money its members contribute on monuments to its founder, administration, and ministerial salaries, instead of preaching the Gospel, ministering to the world, and feeding the flock, then something’s wrong.
People support value. If a denomination or group provides little or no value to its members, they will find no reason to support it. Conversion notwithstanding, Christians are selfish too. They want to know, “what’s in this for me?” Paying out hard-earned money to support elite ministerial hierarchies goes over like a lead balloon these days. Members, rightly or wrongly, want benefits commensurate with the time and money they invest in their church. Furthermore, they demand accountability for how their money is spent.
Church leaders need to learn this lesson well. If they view the Church mainly as a source of support and income for themselves and their ministries, and not as a people to be served, and to whom they are accountable, they will end up fulfilling Ezekiel 34:1-4. All Church leaders need to ask the question, “What am I giving the flock that justifies its support of me?” And, “Is what I’m giving to them commensurate with what I expect them to give me?”
Many worthy ministries are struggling today — largely because Christians do not perceive the value they offer. This is especially true of teaching ministries.
At the same time, too many unworthy ministries are prospering, perhaps because their supporters have mistaken comfort and entertainment for spiritual substance. This injustice needs to be corrected. Ultimately, we are accountable to God for the stewardship of all our wealth. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” says God. Would God approve of the way you are spending that portion of His wealth that He has allotted to you?