The Divided Tithe – Where are you giving on Sunday?

Thw word TITHE written in vintage lead letterpress type

Most of us are dividing our tithe.

Last week Giving USA released a snapshot of American generosity in 2014. The good news? Giving is up, and faster than expected. After seeing decline with economic recession, American philanthropy returned to close to pre-recession levels.

The troubling news?
Churches are seeing their percentage of philanthropy slide…dramatically.

According to the report: While religious organizations gained, generating $114.9 billion or 32 percent of total gifts, more than any other cause, they are slipping from previous years when they commanded 40 to 50 percent of all giving. Giving to religious causes was 56 percent of the total from 1985 to 1989 but just 33 percent from 2010 to 2014.

A major shift is ongoing – Christians are dividing their tithe and redirecting generosity to other organizations. In approximately 25 years, American churches have received 23% less of total giving dollars. If this trend continues, the church will see under 10% a generation from now.

So where does your giving go?

Personally, our family does not tithe to the church. Our giving goes in part to the church and also to other Christian causes we love. Anecdotally, many believers I know participate in the same practice. Given other studies, such as the Pew Research Center study on Millennials leaving the church (See Study) is there a new trend in American Christian thinking about generosity? Are there reasons we are dividing our tithe?

I believe there are.

Non-profit organizationChristian donors are perceiving two kingdoms, a Kingdom of God and a Kingdom of Church, and while one is gaining the other is slipping. Believers give to their local church for the preaching, worship, and children’s education the church offers. Believers, though, are also supporting faith-based nonprofits engaged in Kingdom of God work. The nonprofits are often cutting edge, better storytellers, more efficient, and for these reasons Christians comfortably give a portion of their tithe to both.

The cost to the church is that the church increasingly is outsourcing its mission. Furthermore, individual faith is often deepened most through experiences on the mission field. Consequently, as believers desire to give more those donations are likely to go where faith was most transformed and that may not be the church.

In some ways, the modern church might be reliving a Jesus parable. In the parable of the Good Samaritan the Samaritan gives money to the innkeeper in order to pay for the victim’s care. American givers want the same experience and will put their money where it impacts most directly…. be it the church, or not.

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