The articles and books below explore the giving levels among the newer evangelical Protestant denominations in the United States and Canada.
Serving with Generosity
Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger. Chapter in Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005.
“If you don’t know and aren’t known by poor people, you have a crisis at the center of your Christianity.” This statement, made by a leader in the emergent church movement, characterizes this movement’s approach to generosity and service to the poor. In this essay the authors, both of whom serve on the faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary, explain and support this movement’s particular emphasis on serving with generosity. The emergent church rejects a consumerist Christianity, in which believers are passive participants, and instead, it seeks holistic gospel-living. It does this not only by rejecting escapist revivalism and seeking revival through service but also by moving from social programs to a socially engaged way of life. The emergent church strives to communicate the gospel in a generous and loving manner by: (1) moving away from an exclusively verbal and often confrontational style of evangelization and into a lifestyle of service in which all are invited to share; (2) focusing on becoming good news people before proclaiming the good news message; (3) moving from a spiritualized gospel to an embodied gospel; (4) moving from transmitting a message to demonstrating personal concern; (5) knowing and being known by the poor; (6) moving from a dualistic understanding of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment (to love one’s neighbor as oneself) to a holistic understanding of the gospel; (7) moving from tithing for the church to tithing by the church; and (8) moving from serving in the church to serving Christ in vocations. Although the emergent church movement is very concerned with social action, Gibbs and Bolger maintain that it would be a terrible mistake to interpret it as a return to the liberal, social gospel of the 1920s. Emergent churches are eager to make Jesus’ name known, and this is why they recognize that more than mere evangelization, “authentic kingdom living provides both the credibility and the opportunity to point inquirers to Christ.”
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Do Worshipers Give God His 10 Percent? The Bible Commands Tithing. Some Churches Report the Practice Thrives, but There Are Skeptics
Edward Carlson. The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 11, 2001.
The Bible commands that believers support their churches through tithing. Some church leaders report that this practice is thriving while others are skeptical. Interviewed for this article are several leaders of black churches and seminaries who optimistically reported that tithing levels, especially in black churches, are on the rise. According to a survey conducted by a group of black seminaries, 45 percent of black church members tithe. But Christian researcher Sylvia Ronsvalle is skeptical of such claims. According to her research, American giving has actually been at an all-time low for the past few decades. She attributes the discrepancy between her report and other more optimistic reports to individuals’ incorrect self-reporting and a misunderstanding among laity as to what percentage actually constitutes a tithe. Whatever the truth, tithing is an act of faith that brings freedom to the giver.
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Protestant Giving: Find and Fund the Street Saints
Barbara J. Elliott. Philanthropy (May/June 2005).
“The problem with Protestant giving is less a matter of quantity than of quality,” says this author. While American Protestants give away a larger portion of their income than other faith groups, they often fail to plan and give strategically. For instance, “some of the best work is done under the radar screen by small grassroots” faith-based organizations, but have we searched them out? Or do we quickly opt for the large nonprofit with the glossy pamphlet? Elliott provides a list of characteristics that are more important in a charity than widespread recognition—such as building real relationships with those it serves. She encourages Protestants to think more carefully about where their money goes and to consider investing in the “street saints” of the world.
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Moving Targets: Evangelicalism and the Transformation of American Economic Life, 1870-1920
Peter Dobkin Hall. Chap. in More Money, More Ministry: Money and Evangelicals in Recent North American History. Larry Eskridge and Mark A. Noll, eds. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000.
This essay traces the cohesion and growth of evangelicalism as it has struggled to maintain its distinctive theological identity while also influencing the political, economic and cultural life of the nation. The author examines various regions, denominations, and organizations and how evangelicals attempted in various ways to institutionalize the numeric gains it has made. It examines the religious and non-religious philanthropy of turn-of-the-century industrialists, as well as the growth of civic clubs, alliance-building, and coordinated campaigns for meeting the social needs of communities. The simultaneous growth of nationalism and localized civic engagement is discussed.
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The Anatomy of a Giver: American Christians Are the Nation’s Most Generous Givers, but We Aren’t Exactly Sacrificing
Tim Stafford. Christianity Today, May 19, 1997.
Tim Stafford believes (and he claims—Jesus does, too) that one’s money-handling says a great deal about one’s soul. Evangelical Christians constitute the backbone of all American charitable giving, but they are far from biblically sacrificial. Despite great generosity relative to the rest of the world, American Christians rarely give to a degree that interferes at all with the comfort of their lives. What is more, evangelicals (like most Americans) are conspicuously private about their money; they discuss their spending and giving with no one, the church least of all. Thus, in spite of the appearance of impressive generosity, the evangelical church falls far short of New Testament urgency and sacrifice.
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Evangelicals Are the Most Generous Givers, But Fewer than 10 Percent of Born Again Christians Give 10 Percent to Their Church
George Barna. News release by Barna Research Group, April 5, 2000.
Pollster George Barna’s recent report on American giving in general and evangelical giving specifically reflects a curious paradox. Evangelical Christians are far and away the most generous Americans, but they fall far short of the biblically commanded tithe that most such churches teach. That is, they are generous relative to the world, but disobedient relative to the Bible. Giving in all demographics dropped in 1999 despite economic prosperity.
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Protestant Giving Rates Decline: Rate of Decline Even Worse for Evangelicals, Says Author of Study
Stan Guthrie. Christianity Today, March 5, 2001.
A study of 30 mainline and evangelical denominations by Empty Tomb, a research group in Champaign, Ill., found that in 1998, members gave $17 billion to their churches, which was $4 billion less than they would have donated had their 1968 giving percentage (3.1 percent, equaling $2.7 billion) remained constant.
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Giving Drops: Barna Reports Contributions by Believers Down 19 Percent
Leadership Journal, Fall 2001.
This short sidebar reports some discouraging statistics compiled by Barna Research Group on giving to churches and giving by evangelical Christians, who are generally considered “generous” by many.
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