Barna data shows that younger generations are still determining their identity as givers and are often more inclined to physical demonstrations of generosity rather than financial donations.
What does this mean for the future of the Church? In this article, we take a look at research from our latest and final report in The State of Generosity series—Investing in the Future, created in partnership with Gloo and Kingdom Advisors—to see how pastors feel about young peoples’ giving and if younger generations look to the Church for lessons in generosity.
Few Pastors Say Younger Generations Are Extremely Effective at Demonstrating Generosity
One in three pastors (34%) feel that older congregants at their church are “extremely” effective at demonstrating generosity—an opinion they are seven times less likely to express about younger congregants (5%). In fact, the slight majority of pastors (56%) only go so far as to call younger congregants “somewhat” effective in this area. While they rarely have any criticism of the generosity of older congregants, one in five pastors (18%) call younger congregations “not very” effective in generosity. There’s no sugarcoating it: Pastors don’t think highly of younger generations’ generosity.
Are pastors being a bit unfair? After all, The State of Generosity research reveals admirably generous attitudes and potential among Millennials and now Gen Z, especially in the area of volunteering.
For pastors, though, worries about future generosity may chiefly be an administrative concern. Half of pastors (51%) are “very concerned” about younger Christians not financially supporting the church, and another 43 percent are “somewhat concerned.” When asked about older Christians in their churches, pastors are much more optimistic. Likely having received church giving from older generations for years, nearly three in five pastors (57%) are “not concerned” that older generations’ financial support will drop off.
The fact is financial giving is a driving force of a church’s efforts. Pastors’ concerns may stem from a pragmatic reality: The future of the Church depends in large part on generosity. And that generosity will soon hinge on a generation who presently exhibit less financial security and lower levels of Christian affiliation, church attendance and charitable giving than their elders.
A proactive response might start with building on a shared conviction among pastors and young parishioners: that churches have a responsibility to guide the next generation into a life of greater generosity.
Pastors & Christians Tend to Agree, the Church & Its Leaders Should Teach Generosity
Gen Z, Millennial and Gen X Christians are more likely than their elder peers to strongly agree that Christian churches and pastors have a responsibility to teach congregants how to be generous. These beliefs only deepen among the younger Christians who are also active financial givers.
For their part, the majority of pastors agree they have a responsibility to guide congregants when it comes to modeling generosity. This conviction, however, exceeds their confidence that they are fully equipped to give this kind of guidance (58% strongly agree). Considering pastors also feel ill-equipped to minister to people through various financial seasons and milestones, further education or reinforcement might be needed.
To better connect faith and finances and equip congregants for practical realities of stewardship and generosity, pastors may want to consider partnering with organizations, advisors or laity with professional financial expertise in these areas. As they meet the demand for models of generosity, church leaders might also want to consider recruiting some of the givers and mentors they already esteem in their congregations: older Christians.
The challenges to the financial health and sustainability of churches and charities are not to be diminished: Christian leaders are uncertain of their ability to minister to congregants around the specifics of finances and generosity.
But there is hope—and perhaps some next steps—revealed in the responses of younger Christians. They say they want to be taught about stewardship, and they are looking for strong examples of generosity to emerge from both the pulpit and pews.
About the Research
The State of Generosity is based on an online quantitative 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 U.S. population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).
An additional online survey of 516 U.S. Protestant senior pastors was conducted March 25–April 5, 2022. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s church panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
© Barna Group, 2023.
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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