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Has There Been a Decline in Church Giving?

People giving to church has declined. Everyone knows it. And the stats seem to back it up.

In his thoroughly researched book, The Great Evangelical Recession, John S. Dickerson wrote, “Donations to many churches and ministries have plummeted 20 to 30 percent every year [since 2008].” He predicts that “over the next twelve years…total giving will decrease by as much as half [as the Baby Boom generation starts passing away].”

But I’m not sure it’s true that people are giving less. I think we are, perhaps, missing something. I don’t believe that people are giving less today than they used to. I believe that people just give differently now—and here are four fundamental ways this is true:

1. People now give chunks of both time and money

It used to be much easier to get church members to commit to consistent giving. Teach tithing and people tithed. They gave 10 percent every week to the church they attended—no matter what.

The same was true of volunteering (and I will cover that topic in more detail in an upcoming post). Every church used to have its cadre of Sunday School volunteers who’d been teaching the same class every week for decades.

Not anymore.

There are several reasons why people don’t give as regularly and consistently as they once did—but my experience has shown that, when given the option, they will give in surprisingly large chunks. And if they want to commit in chunks, let’s give them chunks to commit to.

For instance, many people would rather give in one check for the entire year rather than to make a monthly pledge and then worry about remembering to follow through. So, in practical terms, this may mean that you raise the needed funds for a missions’ project with an annual fundraiser rather than asking for a monthly commitment. Let’s lean into their changing commitments instead of fighting them. It’s not a lesser commitment, it’s just a different one.

2. People like to give through relationships

More than giving to projects and events, people like to give to people. People they know. People they trust. People who lead by example.

When you make the personal connection from the giver to the person in need, you will see the giving increase.

Try it. I think you will see that a two-minute video from a missionary, shot on a smartphone and shown on a Sunday morning and then posted on the church’s Facebook page or website, will increase giving for that missionary substantially more than a spoken request.

3. People give because we ask them to give

Many pastors are afraid to ask for help, face-to-face. But I have found that when I step up and make the request personal, people are happy to help much of the time. But what’s important to note here is that we are not just telling them we need help from someone, we’re saying we need help from them.

People can always say no. But they’ll never say yes if we don’t give them the option.

The Bible teaches us that “You don’t have because you don’t ask.” It’s a lesson that good salespeople have taken in, and it’s one that pastors need to learn and practice, too. It’s no longer sufficient to make a general announcement. 

I have more to say on this topic so look for another post with more detail, coming soon. For now, let’s move on to the next point.

4. People give to something they see as worth their commitment

People need to know that they’re giving to something of real value that they can trust. If they themselves have not been scammed, it’s a good bet that they know people who have. And they’ve certainly heard or read about the high-profile, so-called man/woman of God who asks with the wrong motives, whose real goal is to spend the hard-earned money of church members on their own pleasures.

Blind brand loyalty is dead. People won’t give just because a church, ministry, or denomination is where they’ve always given. They want and need to say that the work they are supporting is practical, valuable and trustworthy. We have to constantly prove ourselves worthy of their time and money.

Build a Bridge to Consistent Giving

It’s not enough to get church members to give a week of their time or a once-only big gift. Churches also need weekly helpers and steady givers, especially for budget stability. In fact, recurring givers donate 42% more than non-recurring, and that’s critical for creating a more predictable church budget with a built-in financial cushion for emergencies. 

But getting people involved in a way that suits their lifestyle and answers their trust issues is how we get that snowball started rolling down the hill. We need to build a bridge from one-time events to long-term commitments.

Volunteers and givers haven’t gone away. We just need to know where to find them.

For more critical insights about trends in the church like digital donations, click here to download the free ebook, 2018 Digital Giving Trends in the Church.