Tithing Declines With Economy

A new Barna Group study reveals how the economic duress of recent years as affected Americans' charitable giving.

In the study, released May 10, 77 percent attested to being personally touched by the nation’s financial difficulties. About one-quarter (28 percent) indicated they have been affected in a “major way.”

Following the economic crisis of late 2008, 20 percent of Americans reduced their giving to churches and religious organizations, and 31 percent downsized giving to other nonprofits. Fourteen months later saw a slight improvement in giving trends, but the latest research from Barna, conducted in April 2011, indicates that the numbers of reticent church givers are still hovering at 30 percent. While for the last decade, between 5 and 7 percent of Americans tithed, this number has dropped to 4 percent of the adult population in 2011—significantly lower than last year’s rate  of 7 percent.

“The economic downturn influenced donations later than it affected other aspects of our spending,” noted David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. “Once it kicked in, though, donors have cut back significantly in their giving to churches and nonprofits. Now, even as the economy shows some signs of improvement, donors are still reluctant to return to their previous levels of generosity. They may be less shell-shocked than 15 months ago, but they are still cautious."

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Kinnaman suggested that, rather than attempting to get their financially struggling members to increase their giving, churches and nonprofits with the most effective response to the downturn are those that have "reduced their operating costs without undermining their impact, enabling them to remain effective with less revenue." A diminished capacity for programming and building campaigns has led churches to instead invest in relationships and be creative in serving one another in the midst of financial stress.

— The Barna Group

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