Special Note: This article is included in Jim’s book “Christian Devotions & Quick Studies” along with 33 other articles and is available for purchase in Hardback, Paperback and eBook formats at this link: Jim’s Books
Several years ago I was perplexed by a study on giving patterns at the local church. The study showed that approximately 20% of those who regularly attend church do not financially support the church at all … zero, nil, nada … and that another approximately 30% of the church membership give what amounts to less than 5% of total offerings averaging less than a $1 per family per week. The next 30% of givers account for approximately 15% of total giving. The study thus concluded that 20% of the membership provides 80% of the financial giving. This giving scenario coincides with the modern world giving pattern perfectly (what is known as the Pareto Principle, the law of the vital few, the principle of factor scarcity, and the “80-20 rule”) and I will expound on that in another article later.
Why do so many fail to give generously to their church? You won’t be shocked by my overly simplistic conclusion. Basically, it can be wrapped up in one simple three-letter word … SIN. By definition, man is sinful, self-willed and rebellious. Unfortunately, it appears that worldly thinking and practice has so invaded the church that many have put aside God’s teaching in favor of serving themselves. Yes, I know that many are without jobs and even many more are under-employed. Many are discouraged and many are down-trodden. Nevertheless, God’s principles for giving have not changed. They are timeless.
Even before the time of Moses, God required that all were to give back to Him, and that giving starts with the “tithe.” In simplistic terms, in Old Testament times the tithe was defined as 10% of all increase (income), including the harvest, the livestock, the land, and all payments received. The tithe was to be given from the “first fruits”, the best, not what was left over. Jesus spoke specifically in Matthew 23:23 to the practice of tithing when He said: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. Some theologians and modern-day Christians argue that tithing is no longer required in New Testament times. But Jesus himself confirmed the principle of generous giving through tithes and offerings is absolutely still in effect today for all Christians along with justice, mercy and faithfulness. I realize that I have oversimplified the explanation for tithing, but more detailed information is unnecessary for the purpose of this article.
The Bible has much to say about the free will giving of tithes and offerings. Consider the following principles and scriptures on giving:
1. Everything belongs to God and He is Lord of all.
James 1:17 (NKJV)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Everything, yes everything, belongs to God. He has entrusted us to be stewards of His resources. They are not ours. They are God’s. It is that simple. Everything that we have comes from God. He provides every “gift” that we have. He owns it all. When we give back to Him as He commands, then we are showing that God is truly the Lord of our life. Our giving is an expression of thankfulness for all He has given to us.
2. We are blessed when we give.
Acts 20:35 (NIV)
… remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
I don’t know how many people have told me about the blessings they have received as a result of their giving. I can’t explain it in any other way other than to say that you can’t out-give God. The blessings will likely not come to you in a monetary form. As a result of your giving you may experience exceeding joy, peace that passes understanding and unexplained satisfaction with the accomplishments of others. Jesus himself said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
3. Give freely to God and you will receive freely from God.
Luke 6:38 (NIV)
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Proverbs 11:24 (NIV)
One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
The Bible teaches hat God grants abundant resources to those who manage them in accordance with His principles. Solomon understood these principles and under the leadership of God explained to his son Rehoboam that withholding of our gifts to God leads to poverty. Give freely, receive freely!
4. Pray and ask God what He would have you give and then give cheerfully.
2 Corinthians 9:7
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Clearly what you give is between you and God. God does not expect us to give in a legalistic fashion or because someone or something is twisting our arm to do so. Giving grudgingly is worse than not giving at all. If your heart is right, then giving will be done cheerfully.
5. It’s not “how much” you give, but “how” you give.
Mark 12:41-44 (NIV)
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
God does not look at the amount we are giving. Unlike man, He is not impressed with large amounts per se. He has a different perspective than we do. He is looking at our heart. We are not to give out of our abundance. The amount is not what is important. It is our attitude that counts.
6. When we fail to give to God, we are robbers!
Malachi 3:8-10 (NIV)
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
Failing to give our tithes and offerings is a serious offense to God. When we withhold our offerings or hold back a portion of our giving we are robbing God. Some try to justify their lack of monetary giving by substituting something else such as volunteering their time or overseeing a needed function. While these are worthy actions and certainly part of Godly stewardship, they do not replace our tithes and offerings. The Bible teaches that our tithes and offerings are to be given through the “storehouse” which in modern times is the local church. Sadly, many Christians have ignored this Biblical teaching and miss out on the joy of giving to the Lord and His work.
Some continue to overspend their God provided resources as though everything belongs to them and not God. Some justify their selfishness in not giving generously to their local church using humanly twisted reasoning and excuses such as “I don’t make enough to tithe;” “If I tithe I won’t be able to pay my bills;” “I don’t agree with the way that my church spends its funds;” or “Tithing is an Old Testament principle and the New Testament does not require it.” Perhaps this is why the floodgates remain closed to God’s blessings for so many.
In this tough economy few churches have all of the resources needed to accomplish God’s work … particularly financial resources. Giving has been shrinking. To combat the financial decline almost every church has cut spending. Some have had to abandon ministries and go into what is basically a survival mode. Others have no choice but to abandon their ministry as they are no longer able to financially support it. Some churches have stepped up their promotion for giving through special offerings, sermons on giving, and conducting giving/pledge campaigns. Others have had to turn to other means to raise revenues such as renting unused facilities to other churches. Sadly, most members are not moved to provide realistic and/or meaningful Biblical financial support to their local church.
The truth is that God expects no less of Christians than full support of His work through our free-will giving to our local church through tithes and offerings. That is God’s plan. Are you doing your part? If not, then I encourage you to turn to the Lord, pray for forgiveness and consider what He would have you to do. Your church needs your financial support.
This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to. I’ve not settled on an opinion yet but part of the decline in tithe’s, I think, is due to an increasingly educated Christian who is somewhat fed up with the church in general.
I grew up in the church, went to a Christian college and now work at a Christian organization. I’m questioning a lot of what I, and many believers, have taken for granted over the years and I am coming to find that much of what is treated as doctrine is no more than tradition. Authors like George Barna and David have shed light on this truth.
I’d be curious to see how you would respond to the arguments made in this article: http://simplytruth.com/2011/01/30/tithing-is-not-a-christian-doctrine/
“The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They follow still his crooked way,
And lose one hundred years a day,
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.”
Taken from The Calf-Path
by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)
Aaron Black, I am familiar with most of the arguements in the article link you provided … but not all of them. Let me say that in no way would I try to go head to head with this fellow regarding my understandings and those of a man who spent years studying this one subject and then writing his PhD dissertation on that subject. I am certain that he is just as convinced as I am about his position. One of the standard arguements I have heard against tithing is that the New Testament says nothing about the subject. While it does not say much, Jesus Himself addressed the subject. I made that point in my article. Also, the arguement regarding the Bible always mentioning tithing in the context of animals and foodstuffs rather than money leaves me cold. When most of the instruction in the scripture was given by God money was not readily available. What we know today as income and assets consisted primarily of foodstuffs for the average person in those times. Tithing was a way of giving back to the Lord then and it still is now. I think you will understand my point. I will pray for you as you establish your position on the subject. I stand by my conviction that the Biblical and practical solution for supporting the financial needs of the local church is freewill offerings and tithing. I have reached my conclusion based on Scripture and pastoral teaching. Others have reached their understanding by similar methods. I suppose that the only time that this question and others of similar nature will be settled is when we are all in Heaven and God Himself gives us His instruction on the subject. Thank you for your interest and comments. Jim Davenport
This topic jogs my memory on a couple of things I’ve heard believers commenting on lately.
1. The (less than necessary ?) addition of well paid full time staff members. The thinking amongst people in this court being – most roles in the local Church can be filled by lay folks. In recent years many Churches have added positions for Minister of [fill in the blank] beyond what makes sense – especially financially. Further thinking is – this money that is going to salaries – could be better spent helping people in need and earning the right to share the gospel with them. If – in the opinion of these folks – the local Church is not using their giving with wisdom and responsibility – they will opt to give their hard earned money to ministries that they more line up with and agree with their financial focus. Especially ministries that severely limit their overhead and give a high percentage of each dollar directly to needs (emotional, physical and spiritual). So – they are diverting their funds away from their local Church – and toward the efforts of the global Church. Plus – in a mega-Church environment – a common thought is – if I don’t give, it will never be missed. That line of thinking is less prevalent in smaller Churches. Which could take us down the road of mega-Church – good thing or bad ? Maybe on another blog.
2. Which brings us to the concept of the global Church and the diversion of tithes and offerings to these efforts. Steve Brown (the Key Life Ministries guy with the deep voice) recently said – revival tarries in the U.S. because of a lack of working together and focusing on what we agree about amonst demoninations and factions within denominations. Thus – evangelism outside the U.S. is booming among many people groups. So – these folks are directing their giving to international organizations and/or the IMB because they feel it is being better used and reaping a greater harvest beyond our borders.
Now – I personally don’t totally line up with all of this – though it does cause one to pause and ponder – and better understand a decrease in giving locally.
Any thoughts on this ?
Steve, I appreciate the feedback and the chance to respond. This is an interesting perspective and I certainly can see how some would reach the conclusions you mentioned. First, I must admit that most of my Christian life has been spent in a small to medium sized church. I have never been a member of a large/mega church, so my perspective on that would be suspect.
Just as God expects each of His children to be good stewards of the resources He provides them, churches (both large and small) are equally held accountable for their stewardship of God’s possessions. Sadly, so many churches are no better at managing their resources than are individuals. Tithes and offerings are sometimes squandered on meaningless endeavors and/or marginal ministries. It is easier to “hide” in a large/mega church than in a smaller church. This goes for both lay members and ministerial staff alike. I believe that the Bible teaches that we are to be responsible in our giving to our local church as a first priority. If the church is functioning in accordance with the scripture, then it will support both local and extended missions efforts using the resources provided by the membership. The congregation should be involved in voting for the church budget and overseeing how funds are spent in accordance with that budfget. Unproductive staff should be counseled by qualified and Godly leadership and ultimately eliminated if the situation does not improve. Staffing should align with the mission and ministry of the church. Withholding tithes and offerings from the local church because of disagreement with the way things are being done is certainly not new. Some designate their giving for their favored projects. Some withhold them altogether. Still others divert their giving to outside programs. But the basic bills at the church go right on. It costs money to light, heat and cool the facilities. Notes have to be paid along with insurance, cleaning, etc. Salaries have to be paid. To me a better answer is to continue to give your tithes and offerings to your local church as a first priority and support outside ministries with additional giving above the tithe. If an individual can’t align with a church’s mission and ministry, then that person should work within their local church channels to raise their concerns. If that is unsuccessful, then perhaps it is time to change to another church where thinking and practice are mutually better aligned.
I know that I have not addressed all of the points raised in your comments. My perspective comes from first hand experience at my church and from friends and family at other similar churches. From my observation, the recent decline in giving to the local church is due primarily to an act of self will … and of course, there are always exceptions. In conclusion, the observation that 20% of the members give 80% of the gifts, 30% give 15%, another 30% give 5% and the final 20% give NOTHING is the root of the problem for the local church … not diversion of giving to outside organizations.
Another great article which is timely. It is very interesting that the 80/20 rule applies to church giving. My personal testimony is very much in line with yours. Most important for me is being a good steward of God’s money. I have discovered when I am faithful over a few things, he makes me a master of many more things. Thanks for the message.