The stock market wasn’t the only institution that took a dive financially in 2000. The Barna Research Group’s annual survey of giving to non-profit organizations, churches and non-church religious organizations shows that support levels dropped significantly in the past year. While the vast majority of Americans remain donors, and churches receive a majority of people’s donations, people’s loyalty to churches has been declining for several years, according to the newly released figures.
Overall Giving Dips
The Barna survey found that more than three-quarters of all adults (78%) donated money to a non-profit organization or a church in 2000. That represents a six percentage-point decline from the previous year, and a nine-point drop from 1998, when 87% of all adults had donated funds.
Americans remain the most generous people on earth, giving away about $100 billion each year. However, the average giving per person plummeted by 15% in 2000 to a mean of $886. In comparison, the mean in 1998 was $1377, a drop of more than one-third in just the past two years. Even among born again Christians there was a 16% decline in dollars contributed to all non-profits and churches in 2000.
Giving to Churches Falters
Churches remain the organizations most likely to receive financial support from individuals. Of all the donations given to charities, churches and other non-profit organizations last year, the Barna survey estimated that about six out of every ten dollars given to any non-profit entities went to churches.
In 2000, six out of ten adults (61%) gave money to one or more churches, a small decline from the prior two years (66%). The average church donor contributed a mean of $649 to churches last year, down from $806 the prior year.
Born again Christians were far more generous than the average church supporter. Born again adults, who constitute four out of every ten adults, were more likely than others to give to a church: 77% did so in 2000, although that figure was also lower than the prior year’s figure (84%). The average cumulative donations of born again adults to churches totaled $1166 last year – 80% more than the average adult gave, but still some 19% lower than a year ago. (Born again Christians, for the purposes of this survey, are defined based upon a person’s religious beliefs, not their self-identification as a born again. A more complete description of the definition of born again Christian can be found in the Survey Methodology.)
The most generous group of church donors are evangelicals, the small subset of the born again population who are just 7% of the national adult population. (For survey purposes, evangelicals are not self-defined but are classified according to nine specific religious beliefs they possess. See the notes at the end of this report for a description of evangelicals.) Not only did a higher proportion of evangelicals give to churches (81%), but their average aggregate giving to churches exceeded the two-thousand-dollar mark ($2097).
Tithing Is Rare
While many Christian churches teach the biblical principle of tithing – that is, giving 10% of one’s income to the church – relatively few people follow the practice. One out of every six adults (17%) claims to tithe, but a comparison of the amount that people gave to churches and their household income revealed that just 6% actually donated one-tenth of their income (pre-tax or post-tax) to churches. The level of misreporting among born again Christians was just as prolific: 32% reported tithing, yet only 12% actually did so in 2000.
Even so, born again Christians were about four times more likely than were non-born again adults to tithe (12% vs. 3%, respectively). The Barna survey also discovered that a large proportion of adults claim to be interested in tithing in the future. Two out of every five born again adults who admitted to not currently tithing stated that they hoped to do so in the future, with the remaining one out of five indicating no interest in or intent to tithe in the future.
Parachurch Giving Is Significant
Slightly more than one-third of all Americans (36%) reported giving money to a religious organization, other than a church or worship center, in the past year. The average per capita amount given to such organizations by those donors was $176. The Barna survey estimated the aggregate giving to such organizations to be near $9 billion.
Adults who were more deeply involved in communities of faith and in ministry activity gave even greater amounts to parachurch organizations. About half of all born again adults (47%) gave to a parachurch ministry in 2000, offering an average total of $264 to such entities. Evangelicals were, again, the most supportive of such efforts. Overall, two-thirds (63%) gave to such work, averaging $502 in gifts beyond their church donations.
Challenges for the Future
Assessing the outcomes of the annual giving survey, George Barna, president of the company that conducts the study, noted several significant challenges facing churches. “Two major trends are in force. First, the Baby Bust generation, which includes adults in their twenties through mid-thirties, barely gives to churches or religious causes. Second, their predecessors, the Baby Boomers, who are in their mid-thirties to mid-fifties, are generous donors but simply do not assume that they ought to give to churches. They are value-donors, giving to organizations that they perceive to be providing personal benefits or significant, unduplicated value to society. As these two generations become more prolific within churches, their tendency to give less to churches will challenge ministries to reconceptualize their budgeting, fundraising and planning practices.”
Barna also pointed out that some of the fastest-growing segments of our population are among those least likely to fund churchwork. “Hispanics, now the second largest ethnic group in America and still rapidly growing, only give 39% as much to churches as does the average adult. Americans who have never been married give just one-third as much to churches as does the typical American. The growth of these groups – and their reluctance to support churches – is a reminder that traditional views about the importance of giving to churches are absent in the minds of a growing proportion of the non-traditional populations in our country.”
The data described above are from telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 1005 adults. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The data for previous years’ surveys was conducted in the same manner, using the same sampling techniques and survey questions, and also based on samples of 1000 or more randomly selected adults. All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. Adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.
“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
“Evangelicals” are a subset of born again Christians in Barna surveys. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical has no relationship to church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church they attend. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”
The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984 it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. This research was funded solely by Barna Research as part of its regular tracking of attitudes, values and behavior.
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