Church-giving culture is drastically different than it was decades ago. While it didn't change overnight, this culture shift has accelerated just in the past five years. I won't bore you with the common suspect reasons you've likely heard.
I won't share how denominational tithers are dying off (which they are). And I won't remind you that churches don't talk enough about giving (we're all sick of hearing that, and it's not completely true anyway). And I won't share how people are materialistic, greedy and swimming in debt (that's nothing new either).
As I look at giving trends today, there are three unique reasons the church-giving culture is becoming increasingly different ... and dysfunctional.
1. Vision casting has replaced doctrinal teaching. Instead of teaching Christians to give to please God, they're being taught to give to meet a need—build buildings, feed orphans, dig wells, etc. Part of this trend is due to competition with nonprofits. As the number of nonprofit (para-church) ministries grows, so do the choices people have to give.
To compete with nonprofits, churches have applied best fund-raising practices to raise money. This means videos, brochures, projections, targets and of course...celebration Sunday! And after the campaign comes ribbon-cutting ceremonies, ROI reports, metric discussions. Meanwhile the doctrine of giving takes a back seat ... or for some churches, fades away entirely.
2. People want to see their gifts make a difference. This second reason is closely related to the first. Vision casting has trained congregants to be customers. Instead of giving because it's the right thing to do (a response of worship, submission and adoration to God), they give because of an impact they expect to see realized.
That's why when a church does a special offering, they have no problem raising the funds. Nobody wants to send Pastor Gonzalez back to Mexico without the cash to build the orphanage. But when it comes to funding the weekly budget, churches struggle. People can't "see" insurance, light bills and payroll taxes. But they can see hungry children, water wells, brick-and-mortar med clinics.
People want to see their gifts have impact. That's how they're being trained.
3. The doctrine of tithing has been downgraded. People no longer trust the tithing doctrine. Personally, I believe the tithe never was the biblical standard (see 2,000 Gifts E-Paper at www.AcceptableGift.org). It's no wonder the practice is not sticking.
However, this poses a problem for churches that have historically relied on the tithe as the gold giving standard.
What happens when Christians raise questions about tithing? It depends. If the church does not have a valid replacement theology, they'll turn to more vision casting ... you know, showing people how their gifts can make a difference.
You see the cycle we're caught in, don't you?
Not Either/Or, But Both
Vision casting is not bad. It's good actually. Churches need to aim for meaningful goals. And church leaders need to be accountable for showing ministry impact from their work. But these ideas must not replace the need to teach solid doctrine for why we should give to God.
Theology should always trump trends. Biblical doctrine should always be stronger than a best-practices manual. The Word of God should shout louder than the wisdom of campaign consultants.
Paul pleaded for the Corinthian church to give. He offered a few words of vision (famine-ridden Judeans), but he used primarily a heavy dose of doctrine to encourage Christians to give.
If you're a church leader, I encourage you to evaluate the giving trends in your church--ask yourself the question: What do your people hear the loudest—the doctrine of giving or something else?
Jeff Anderson speaks and writes about walking with God, with an approach to discipleship that combines Scripture and story. He's the author of two books, Plastic Donuts and Divine Applause (January 2015). For more information, visit acceptablegift.org.
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