Mar 29, 2023

Beyond the Offering Plate: Views on Volunteering

While many may think of “generosity” as synonymous with “financial giving,” it can also include nonmonetary giving, emotional support, hospitality and—the focus of our latest report—volunteering.

Beyond the Offering Plate—our fifth volume in the State of Generosity series created in partnership with VOMO and Gloo—explores how U.S. adults and Christians think about and give of their time and talent through volunteering, something we’ll take a closer look at in this article.

Beyond the Offering Plate

How Christians Give Their Time & Talent

80% of Americans Agree There’s More to Generosity than Giving Money
In Barna’s survey of the general population, 53 percent of adults strongly agree there is more to generosity than giving money. This number jumps to 80 percent when we factor in those who agree somewhat.

Are people pointing specifically to volunteering as an important aspect of personal generosity? Which groups are most likely to embrace volunteering? And, further, do people see giving of time and talent in the same way as giving of treasure?

Let’s look at the data to see how perceptions of volunteering may be shifting.

About half of all adults (49%) agree that every person should volunteer regularly. People don’t only see volunteering as important; many also view it as a potential substitute for financial generosity. In Barna’s survey, two-thirds of adults (65%) say it is okay for people who volunteer regularly not to give financially. Only 2 percent of adults strongly disagree.

In a society where it can feel like there is never enough time, it’s understandable that people might value their time as much as or even more than money. This trend may show a shift in valuing the giving of time over financial resources. After all, if time is a resource that’s in high demand, it means a lot for someone to give their time.

38% of Practicing Christians Strongly Agree Every Person Should Volunteer Regularly
It’s important for pastors, as well as leaders or fundraisers working with congregations, to know that Christians are even more likely than the general population to see volunteering as important.

In fact, 38 percent of practicing Christians strongly agree that every person should volunteer regularly, well over the 19 percent average in the general population.

Barna has observed this mindset among practicing Christians for some time. In a 2019 Barna study, just one in five practicing Christians pointed to financial giving as the way they most frequently express their generosity. Instead, service or volunteering was the most common expression of generosity among practicing Christians (at 31%). Emotional and relational support (25%) also exceeded monetary support as a method of generosity.

When we compare generations, we find that volunteering and service are even more important to Gen Z, with 42 percent saying it is the most frequent way they express generosity.

Even so, practicing Christians are as likely as the general population to see nonmonetary giving as a replacement for financial generosity. Three in five agree to some extent that those committed to volunteering have less of a responsibility to give financially.

Thinking about church giving in particular, one in four Christians (25%), including 44 percent of practicing Christians, strongly agrees that every church member should financially support their church. Only one-quarter of Christians (24% of all Christians, 26% of practicing Christians) strongly agrees it is okay for people not to financially support their church.

This may reveal Christians’ more traditional understanding of tithing as giving a set portion of income to the church. That may be shifting, though. Barna research reveals that Christians have a malleable definition of tithing. Substantial percentages say the tithe is neither exclusively financial nor exclusively given to a church. For churches that rely heavily on tithes to keep the church running, this data may have significant implications for budgets and financial forecasting.

Pastors and nonprofit leaders may be keenly aware of the financial and tangible needs of their organizations, and the thought of people choosing between giving time or giving money poses challenges for the sustainability of their work. Additionally, pastors likely believe in and teach tithing as a discipline of the Christian life and church membership. It is imperative for leaders to be aware of and discuss these differences and come to some common ground. Whatever preferences a generous individual may have, how might they come to see how financial gifts can partner with and further the impact of volunteering, and vice versa?

About the Research

This report is based 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 American population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).

An online survey was also conducted among 516 Protestant senior pastors from 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.

Photo by Joel Muniz from Unsplash.

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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The State of Generosity

We’ve teamed up with Gloo and a collective of partners to study the who, what, why and how of today’s giving landscape. We’re also looking to the future of giving, both in terms of trends and the next generation.

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