3 Reasons Why Church Giving Culture Has Changed

Christian Leadership Alliance: Church Giving

By Jeff Anderson

Church giving culture is drastically different than it was decades ago. While it didn’t change overnight, this culture shift has accelerated just in the past five years. I won’t bore you with the common suspect reasons you’ve likely heard.

I won’t share how denominational tithers are dying off (which they are). And I won’t remind you that churches don’t talk enough about giving (we’re all sick of hearing that, and it’s not completely true anyway). And I won’t share how people are materialistic, greedy and swimming in debt (that’s nothing new either).

As I look at giving trends today, there are three unique reasons why the church giving culture is becoming increasingly different… and dysfunctional.

1. Vision casting has replaced doctrinal teaching.

Instead of teaching Christians to give to please God, they’re being taught to give to meet a need – build buildings, feed orphans, dig wells, etc. Part of this trend is due to competition with non-profits. As the number of non-profit (para-church) ministries grows, so do the choices people have to give.

To compete with non-profits, churches have applied best fund-raising practices to raise money. This means videos, brochures, projections, targets, and of course…celebration Sunday! And after the campaign comes ribbon cutting ceremonies, ROI reports, metric discussions. Meanwhile the doctrine of giving takes a back seat…or for some churches, fades away entirely.

2. People want to see their gifts make a difference.

This second reason is closely related to the first. Vision casting has trained congregants to be customers. Instead of giving because it’s the right thing to do (a response of worship, submission and adoration to God), they give because of an impact they expect to see realized.

That’s why when a church does a special offering, they have no problem raising the funds. Nobody wants to send Pastor Gonzalez back to Mexico without the cash to build the orphanage. But when it comes to funding weekly budget, churches struggle. People can’t “see” insurance, light bills, and payroll taxes. But they can see hungry children, water, brick and mortar, med clinics.

People want to see their gifts have impact. That’s how they’re being trained.

3. The doctrine of tithing has been downgraded.

People no longer trust the tithing doctrine.

However, this poses a problem for churches that have historically relied on the tithe as the gold giving standard.

So what happens when Christians raise questions about tithing? It depends. If the church does not have a valid replacement theology, they’ll turn to more vision casting… you know, showing people how their gifts can make a difference.

You see the cycle we’re caught in, don’t you?

Not either or, but both.

Vision casting is not bad. It’s good actually. Churches need to aim for meaningful goals. And church leaders need to be accountable for showing ministry impact from their work. But these ideas must not replace the need to teach solid doctrine for why we should give to God.

Theology should always trump trends. Biblical doctrine should always be stronger than a best practices manual. The word of God should shout louder than the wisdom of campaign consultants.

Paul pleaded for the Corinthian church to give. He offered a few words of vision (famine-ridden Judeans), but he used primarily a heavy dose of doctrine to encourage Christians to give.

If you’re a church leader, I encourage you to evaluate the giving trends in your church – ask yourself the question.

?What do your people hear the loudest – the doctrine of giving? Or something else?


Jeff Anderson speaks and writes about walking with God, with an approach to discipleship that combines scripture and story. He’s the author of two books, Plastic Donuts and Divine Applause (January 2015). Jeff began his career working as a CPA for a Big Six accounting firm, then became a day trader in the stock market. Following that, he joined Crown Financial Ministries as vice-president for North America Generosity Initiatives.

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5 responses to “3 Reasons Why Church Giving Culture Has Changed”

  1. James Lewis says:

    It is about Stewardship. It is a simple task to gauge a person‟s understanding of stewardship by studying their charitable giving, or lack thereof.

  2. Roland Hairston says:

    Insightful post. Good job. Thanks.

  3. I believe tithing is a part of the Old Testament law. I don’t see anywhere in the New Testament where Jesus or the apostles told anyone tithing was required. Instead, they taught to love the Lord with all your heart. Instead of teaching people that 10% of what we earn is God’s, I believe we should be teaching people that 100% of what we earn is God’s we need to steward it wisely and give generously (10% is a good start).

    I don’t see any problem capital campaigns and showing the results of giving, but I think the biggest reason giving is down is because most church people view giving from a consumerist perspective – what are the services the church provides to me worth? $20 a week? $50 a week? And only when we actually get to a service.

    The other issue I see is that most churches are not really living like the church described in Acts 2… “they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” How much of the average church offering actually goes to help people in need vs salaries and facility expenses?

    Perhaps if people saw their friends in the congregation being helped through their giving, people would be more generous as well.

  4. Mike Loomis says:

    Some great thoughts Jeff – and good insights in your comment Paul! I helped Jeff with this webinar yesterday – here’s the replay: (Jeff also has a free e-paper about the tithe, called 2000 gifts, I think you’d enjoy!

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