Culture At Large

The Tithing Minority

Chris Salzman

Everybody's favorite polling group, Barna, has released their tithing numbers for 2007. Short story: not too many people tithe in the United States.

Whether they believe in the principle of tithing or not, few Americans give away that much money. In 2007, the research revealed that just 5% of adults tithed. Not surprisingly, some population groups were more likely than others to have given away at least ten percent of their income. Among the most generous segments were evangelicals (24% of whom tithed); conservatives (12%); people who had prayed, read the Bible and attended a church service during the past week (12%); charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (11%); and registered Republicans (10%).
Several groups also stood out as highly unlikely to tithe: people under the age of 25, atheists and agnostics, single adults who have never been married, liberals, and downscale adults. One percent or less of the people in each of those segments tithed in 2007.
Among all born again adults, 9% contributed one-tenth or more of their income. The study also showed that Protestants were four times as likely to tithe as were Catholics (8% versus 2%, respectively).
Tithing Since 2000
The percentage of adults who tithe has stayed constant since the turn of the decade, falling in the 5% to 7% range. The Barna tracking reported that the proportion of adults who tithed was 7% in 2006 and 2005; 5% in 2004 and 2003; 6% in 2002; and 5% in 2001.

The following quotation by Barna mirrors how I've seen in my own giving recently. Namely, rather than giving exclusively to a local church Americans are giving directly to other ministries and charities.

"Born again adults remain the most generous givers in a country acknowledged to be the most generous on the planet," said the veteran researcher. "But their donation decisions must be seen in the larger context of the changes occurring in a wide range of religious behaviors. With millions of people shifting their allegiance to different forms of church experience, and a more participatory society altering how people interact and serve others, many Christians are now giving their money to different types of organizations instead of a church. They attend conventional churches less often. They are expanding their circle of Christian relationships beyond local church boundaries. And they are investing greater amounts of their time and money in service organizations that are not connected with a conventional church. That doesn’t make such giving inappropriate or less significant, it’s just a different way of addressing social needs."

"The choices being made by born again donors have huge implications for the non-profit sector. Realize that a majority of the money donated by individuals in the U.S. comes from the born again constituency," Barna pointed out. "If this transition in the perceptions and giving behavior of born again adults continues to accelerate, the service functions of conventional churches will be redefined within the next eight to ten years, and conventional churches will have to adopt new ways of assisting people in need."


Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Media