Fact or fiction? Those who give have been given to first.
Barna’s new report, Why Giving Is Good—the third volume in The State of Generosity series created with Gloo and a collective of partners—explores what leads U.S. adults and Christians to practice generosity in their own lives. For many, it is true that seeing kindness encourages them to extend kindness to others.
65% of Practicing Christians Have Directly Experienced Generosity
Data from Why Giving Is Good show that this reciprocated generosity is especially prominent among practicing Christians—the majority of whom say they have been the recipient of someone’s generosity and now, are motivated to model generosity for others (65%).
Asked if they have ever been the recipient of someone’s extraordinary generosity, just under half of U.S. adults (46%) say yes. Another 43 percent indicate they have not, while 11 percent say they are unsure. This decline among the general population in receiving generosity compared to practicing Christians hints to the influence faith community and practice might have on one’s experience with generosity.
There are two potential implications the Church can take from this insight:
First, practicing Christians may have a higher chance of being exposed to generosity. For instance, among practicing Christians, over half (55%) currently give to a church (compared with just 25% of all self-identified Christians). Because practicing Christians are more likely to be around other practicing Christians in a church environment, there is a great chance for someone to be both a participant in and recipient of generous community.
Second, practicing Christians may be more apt to notice generosity in their everyday life. The Church puts great emphasis on the topics of generosity and gratitude (in fact, nearly three-quarters of practicing Christians say their pastor often speaks from the pulpit on generosity). It is possible that greater awareness is a result of higher priority.
In general, givers are significantly more likely to say they have received generosity in the past (54% say yes, compared to 36% of nongivers). Often, those who currently practice generosity have not only been recipients of generosity but have also seen it modeled for them. Now, they desire to model generosity for others.
79% of Practicing Christians Say Generosity Was Taught to Them
The trends above are noteworthy in the lifecycle of generosity because they suggest generosity can be learned. When asked if anyone has taught them what being a generous person means, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (63%) say yes.
Practicing Christians are, again, significantly more likely to say principles of generosity were taught to them (79%). This emphasizes how church communities can be hubs for generous activity. Churches can follow the example of Paul by both encouraging and showcasing generosity in their congregations. Giving may often start with learning—a truth we see underscored in the 69 percent of givers who say generosity was taught to them (vs. 56% of nongivers).
How, then, do people learn generous behavior? The most common source is seeing generosity exemplified through their parents, typically mothers. Half of all U.S. adults (49%) say their mother was the best example of generosity in their life, and 35 percent say the same of their father. For practicing Christians, Jesus is the most-cited example of generosity (61%).
To more explicitly illustrate the virtuous cycle of receiving, teaching and practicing generosity: More than half of those who have been taught about generosity have also been recipients of generosity (56% vs. 27% of those who haven’t been taught). And, from the other end, three-quarters of those who have been recipients of extraordinary generosity have been taught about generosity (78% vs. 49% of those who have not been recipients of extraordinary generosity).
Overall, Christians are exceptional givers. And as Christians, we know giving is good because giving is elemental to God’s very nature and the story of the Christian faith. By participating in generosity, people can tap into the meaning and joy of that redemptive, transformative work. This is good news, indeed.
About the Research
Why Giving Is Good data: A qualitative survey of 2,016 U.S. adults, conducted from November 12–19, 2021. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Researchers used an online panel for data collection and observed a quota random sampling methodology. Quotas were set to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors and samples were weighted by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the American population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).
© Barna Group, 2022.
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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