Apr 13, 2004

From the Archives

Giving to Churches Rose Substantially in 2003

One sure-fire indicator that the national economy is on the path to recovery is found in new survey data showing that Americans donated significantly more money to non-profit organizations in 2003 than they did in 2002. A new report from The Barna Group shows that giving to churches and to non-profit organizations of all types jumped in the past twelve months, with the average dollars donated to churches hitting the highest level since 2000.

The study also found that the percentage of adults who tithed to a church remained unchanged, but there are sizeable differences in the proportion of people who tithe according to various demographic and theolographic characteristics.

Giving to All Non-Profits, Including Churches

Overall, 80% of all households donated some money to at least one non-profit organization during 2003. That is consistent with the figures of the prior two years, but somewhat lower than had been reported in 2000 (84%) and 1999 (87%).

The total amount of money donated to all non-profit entities, including churches and other houses of worship, rose from a mean of $991 in 2002 to $1079 in 2003. That constitutes an 8% increase above the 2002 average. When measured in constant dollars, however, the current average is more than one-quarter below   the amount donated by the typical household in 1999.

Giving to Churches

Churches continue to be the dominant recipients of people’s generosity. Close to two out of every three households (63%) donated some money to a church, synagogue or other place of religious worship during 2003. That percentage has remained constant since 2001, but is somewhat lower than the number of church donors identified in 2000 and in 1999 (66%).

The mean amount of money donated to churches and other worship centers in 2003 was $824. That is the highest mean since 2000, and is 14% higher than the giving level measured in 2002. Once again, the current level is somewhat below the donation level, calculated in constant dollars, of 2000.

In total, about three out of every four dollars donated by individuals in 2003 went to churches, synagogues and other religious worship centers. When contributions are examined as a percentage of household income, giving to religious centers represents about 2.2% of gross income.

Tithing Has Not Changed

In total, one out of every twenty households (5%) tithed their pre-tax income to non-profit organizations. A large majority of those individuals actually gave ten percent or more of their income to churches – a group that represents 4% of the national population of households.

When the survey examined the behavior of born again adults – those who have made a significant personal commitment to Jesus Christ and who believe they will experience eternal life because of their confession of sins and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their savior – the outcome showed just 7% had tithed to their church. That figure was consistent with the 2002 data among born again adults, which showed just 6% had tithed to their church. The current percentage is just half as many as had tithed in 2002 (14%). Interestingly, more than twice as many born again adults gave no money to a church last year (18%) as tithed to a church (7%).

Among the born again population, which represents 38% of all adults, the average giving to churches was $1411 – much higher than a year earlier ($1220), but below previous year’s totals. The amount of gross income donated by born again adults to their church averaged 3.8%.

Some Groups Are More Generous Than Others

The Barna Group survey also identified segments of the population that are the most and the least likely to tithe their money to churches and other worship centers.

The segments that were most likely to give at least ten percent to their house of worship included evangelicals (14% did so); adults with an active faith (12% of those who had attended church, prayed and read the Bible during the previous week); African-Americans, born agains, charismatic or Pentecostal Christians, and people from households with a gross income of $60,000 or more (7% among each of those segments).

The segments that were least likely to tithe included Catholics (1%) as well as non-born again individuals, adults under 35, and those from households with a gross income of $40,000 to $59,999 (2% of the people in each of those segments tithed).

Motivational Difficulties

George Barna, whose company conducted the tracking survey, commented that church giving will likely remain flat until church leaders address people’s motivations for giving. “Once a church establishes itself as being trustworthy in people’s minds, it will raise a minimal amount of money from attenders. However, to significantly increase people’s willingness to give generously, a church must speak to the issues that get people excited. The leader, first and foremost, must present a compelling vision for the ministry – not simply keeping the doors open and the programs running, but a clear and energizing goal that describes how lives will be transformed by the church if people contribute their time, money and skills. Related to that vision,” Barna continued, “the church must then impress potential donors with its ability to minister in ways that are efficient, effective, satisfying urgent needs, providing personal benefits, and incorporating donors into the heart of the effort to bring about serious life-change. Most donors give a modest sum of money out of habit, guilt or hope, but are not moved to share or sacrifice in a bigger way because they do not sense that the church is revolutionizing the community.”
With the economic turnaround recently trumpeted by the Bush Administration, Barna stated that the future funding potential for churches is substantial. However, the researcher cautioned, “continuing to raise funds the same way they always do – generic pledging campaigns, asking people to pray about giving, talking about people’s responsibility for funding the operations and programs of the church – will simply generate the same lukewarm response from congregants. The availability of funds and the willingness to invest in meaningful ministry does not automatically lead to increased giving by churched people. It’s a highly competitive market for funds, with more than one million non-profit organizations vying for donor dollars. The organizations that score big are those that understand why they exist and how to motivate donors to get on-board with distinctive and impactful activity that stimulates people to give beyond the normal one or two percent that is given without much thought or sacrifice.”

Research Methodology

The data for the annual tracking survey on donations conducted by The Barna Group are based upon telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 1014 adults conducted in late January and early February of 2004. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All non-institutionalized adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of respondents coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. The data were subjected to slight statistical weighting procedures to calibrate the survey base to national ethnic and gender proportions. Households selected for inclusion in the survey sample received multiple callbacks to increase the probability of obtaining a representative distribution of adults.

About Barna

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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