Everyone Here Tithes, and Other Myths About Church Giving
Lori Guenther Reesor (B.Math, MTS, DMin)
The church treasurer assured me, the visiting stewardship consultant, that everyone in the congregation tithed.
I was gob-smacked. I had analyzed congregational giving for the past year. If people were tithing, this was a very low-income congregation. Their ministry model needed to change. Drastically.
Do people drive to church?
“Do people drive here?” I replied. The numbers didn’t add up. If $1,000 is a tithe, move the decimal place over to the right = $10,000 annual income. Hard to afford a car on that.
I imagine that $1,000 a year came from $20 in an envelope every week. And back in 1962, that might have been a tithe.
How much do Canadians give?
Don’t get me wrong: $1,000 in annual giving is more generous than most, it’s just not likely a tithe. $1,000 is triple what most Canadians give. According to income tax data, the median total charitable giving is $310 annually (median means half give more, half give less). And only about half of Canadians claim charitable donations at all.
If everyone tithed, here’s the estimated total giving
Median household income in Canada in 2019 was $62,900. 10% of that is $6,290. Multiply the number of church parking spaces by $6,000 to estimate total giving if every household tithed.
Of course, income varies by region and age. Giving before tax or after tax? The church treasurer assured me that people in that congregation were on fixed incomes. Everyone was giving as much as they could.
Pretending everything is fine, and other common stewardship strategies
I am not arguing for a heavy-handed tithing campaign. Not everyone can afford to give 10% to the church. Trying to guilt people into giving more doesn’t work.
What I object to is pretending that everyone tithes. Or pretending that everyone gives. In my experience, about 40% of church members don’t give at all.
Everyone tithes. People are giving as much as they can. The message I heard from the church treasurer was that they didn’t want to talk about money. Denial as a stewardship strategy was serving the congregation poorly.
It’s easier to assume people can’t afford to give more than it is to talk about money.
Jesus talks about money—we can too
Great news! Jesus is an excellent teacher about money. Jesus, an observer of how much goes in the offering, who leads a discussion on the widow’s mite with his disciples. Jesus, who proclaims that salvation has come to Zaccheus’ household after Zaccheus announces he’s giving away 50% of his assets.
Besides me and the treasurer, no one else in that meeting knew how much people gave. They didn’t know how much money the church had in the bank. Silence and secrecy around money gives money more power than it deserves.
What to do? Read the gospels. Tell stories. I have had the tremendous privilege of listening to people tell me how they learned to be generous. The story of their giving is testimony. Testimony to God’s faithfulness in their life, to their trust in God’s provision.
The church: a safe place to be uncomfortable
I pray that the church can be a safe place for money stories. Can we talk about:
mortgage or rent we can barely cover?
student loans that are older than our kids?
payday loans weighing us down?
Can we pray together and seek out the counsel of our fellow believers in handling money? Or bravely add death to the discussion: what about leaving a gift to the church in our will?
Beyond the numbers
We worship a generous God, giver of every good thing. What is a faithful response to God’s mercies, new every morning? It’s hard to put a number on that. The apostle Paul counselled Corinthians to give regularly and to give as God had prospered them. Still sounds like good advice today.
How is your congregation doing? Can you talk about money? Pursuing the spiritual discipline of giving is first and foremost a discipleship question: more money for the church is a nice by-product.
Lori Guenther Reesor (B.Math, MTS, DMin) combines her math, theology, and ministry background in her work. She is a writer, speaker, and consultant on faith and fundraising. Her book Growing a Generous Church: A Year in the Life of Peach Blossom Church is available through www.lgreesor.com and www.commonword.ca
Discipleship in Canadian Congregations
Canadian church leaders, across theological sectors, agree that an important dynamic to congregational flourishing is discipleship.
In this report we share how those who participated defined what they meant when talking about discipleship, the expressed need for discipleship processes to be intentional, the main factors which were perceived to impact the spiritual growth of the disciple, the role of congregational environment, and how discipleship was understood to help people to grow spiritually.
We then briefly touch on the impact that COVID-19 has had on discipleship efforts and how the pandemic may impact discipleship going forward. Our hope in sharing our findings is that churches of various denominations may be able to apply the information and insights to their own contexts.
What We Are Reading
Church Without Walls: Christian Life after a Pandemic
Church Without Walls: Christian Life after a Pandemic represents one of many endeavors that have been produced over the past twelve to fourteen months addressing the matter of what lies ahead for the church moving slowly out of a global pandemic. It is clear in most people’s minds that “getting back to normal” will not mean returning exactly to the way things were prior to COVID-19.
The chapters of this book are not necessarily intended to be read sequentially. A variety of contributors have written on topics close to their hearts and areas of expertise thus providing an array from which to choose. Some of the chapters include: “Youth Ministry in the New World,” “Church in the COVID Era: Gathered or Scattered?” and “Out of the Building and into the Community.”
Walls are intended to protect. But as the editor of this book states, “God’s more interested in having a place of residence among us than a place of protection around us.”
One of the contributors, Harold Afflu, pointed out that just as the crisis of a global pandemic called for a collective response to address and resolve the problem, so now we as the church “need a new paradigm of working collectively to see God’s kingdom affect the whole of society.”
Although written from the British context, there is much in this work that is readily applicable to any church in any cultural context.
Rev. Dr. Bill McAlpine, Professor Emeritus, Ambrose University
Resources for Church Leaders
Life Shared Summit Webinar
Thursday, September 9th , 2021 - 9am PST/12pm EST
The Life Shared Summit is a celebration of the work of God in our nation and an urgent call for the church in Canada to make Jesus’ last commandment – making disciples – our first priority. Join with leaders from every corner of the country and Church in a recommitment to the work of evangelism. Register Here.
From The Trenches - The Parish Council for the Missional Church
Tuesday, September 7th, 2021 - 10:00am Central
Want to know how to bring your parish from maintenance to mission? Wondering how other parishes are doing it and what they are learning in the process?
This month's topic; The Parish Council for the Missional Church. What does this parish council look like and how do you create it? Find out more here.
Resources for Safer Church Re-Opening
Want to increase confidence in your congregation and community; to increase your knowledge; and to share what you've learned over the past year?
Join Dr. Bridget Stirling (epidemiologist and former missionary), a team of public health specialists, and church leaders from around the world in the ARCC.
The Application to Reduce Communicable Diseases in Churches (ARCC) is a program that increases safety through Risk self-assessments and guidance, church-specific training and an interactive forum. Visit us at stirlingharmston.com
Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations
Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.