Tithing... without the church

Andy Rau

We've all read about the rather lamentable state of tithing in America; it's a subject that's come up once or twice before here at TC. I recently had a conversation with a friend that made me rethink my own tithing habits. My friend is a deacon at a well-attended local church that, I'd heard, is cutting back some of its programs due to financial difficulties. Our chat went something like this:

Me: "How's your church doing financially these days?"
My friend: "It's been pretty tight lately. Giving has gone way down over the last year or two."
"So not many people are tithing anymore these days? What percentage of your congregation would you estimate tithes regularly?" I expected to hear a shockingly low number—like 5%—and I also anticipated the feeling of guilt that would come from remembering that I myself have a less-than-perfect track record when it comes to tithing at my own church.
"Actually, almost everyone gives something. It's just that they're giving a lot less than in the past."
"So what, they're spending more money on iPods and World of Warcraft instead?"
"Not as much as you'd think. A lot of people are just doing their tithing on their own, outside the church. The internet makes it so easy to give directly to the specific ministries you want to support, that it just makes sense to donate directly to them rather than going through the 'middleman' of the church."

I was initially surprised to hear this (and I don't know how widespread this shift in tithing habits is, although Barna suggests that this isn't a fluke), but on reflection it makes perfect sense. When I think "tithe," I usually think "money I give to church"—but that's not so true anymore. The internet expands the pool of organizations to which I can donate money far, far beyond the number of organizations supported by my local church—and donating online is even easier than remembering to write a check for the offering before the Sunday morning service.
All well and good; perhaps it makes sense for the church to reduce its role as "donations middleman" as direct giving over the internet rises. But conversations like the one I had with my friend make me wonder if people are forgetting that their church needs some of that tithe money to get by, too.
What's your experience with this? Has the internet changed your giving habits? Has your church felt the pinch of reduced giving, and is any of it related to this trend? Should our concept of tithing change to accommodate the economic independence offered by the internet?

Topics: Online, Culture At Large, Business & Economics, Money, Theology & The Church