Tithing percentages sink to Great Depression levels

Tithing in Protestant churches has reached a record low.

pastorerickson.com/CREATIVE COMMONS

Sean Locke

pastorerickson.com/CREATIVE COMMONS

Augusta McDonnell, Writer

Tithing and church giving has declined for four consecutive years, primarily to benevolences, or spending that is directed to missionary work. | pastorerickson.com/CREATIVE COMMONS

Tithing contributions in Protestant American churches have reached record lows not seen since the Great Depression and are not predicted to recover anytime soon, a recent report by Religion News Service concluded. Church members gave 2.3 percent of their income, a significant decline from the 3.1 percent given by church members in 1968, according to a recent study by Christian research group Empty Tomb said the report.

“Giving has declined for four consecutive years, according to the report. The only other period of prolonged decline in giving per member was from 1928 through 1934,” the article reported.

The steepest monetary decline was in the area of “benevolences,” spending that is directed to missionary work and seminary support and does not apply to a local congregation’s needs, the Empty Tomb study said. Giving to benevolences was at 0.34 percent of a person’s income, a 48 percent decrease since 1968 — its lowest level since that time period, Religion News Service reported.


Biblical studies professor Matthew Williams said there could be many different reasons why people have become less committed to giving money to the church. In our culture, we’re encouraged to get more and more for ourselves, he said, so the idea of giving away is not natural.

“People should give what they feel the Lord is calling them to give, and to give sacrificially,” Williams said.

Williams explained that Paul makes it clear that each should decide in their own heart what he or she should give.

Depending on a person’s situation, a tithe may be more or less than 10 percent, the common standard given for tithing, Williams said. The requirement of tithing is fulfilled in the new covenant, he said — the point is to help other people.

“Let’s say you graduate from Biola, and you get a job for $25,000 a year. You can’t live on that … you are now one of the persons who should be receiving help,” Williams said.


The New Testament talks more in terms of wisdom, not just numbers or rules, Williams explained. Christians should focus on how should they give, why they should give, and what should they give: The answer is not black and white. It depends on each person, and that is why Paul told people to pray about it, he said.

“To ask someone [to tithe] who makes $25,000 a year in California, where it takes more than that to live … I’m not sure that Paul is looking for that idea,” Williams said. “But he might be — it just depends.”

Alyssa Hirsch, a junior sociology major, explained she has made tithing a priority since she began working at age 16.

“Tithing is a really important part of our culture as Christians because it allows us to be connected with God through our financial stresses,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch said it is okay to give to organizations outside of the church as part of your tithe, if you feel called to give to them. 

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