Changing the Culture of Giving in Your Congregation

There’s no doubt that “the Church” – at least as we’ve known it in our lifetime – is in trouble in the United States, at least in terms of market share.

In 1983 Americans gave $63 billion to all kinds of charitable causes — fully $32 billion of those dollars went to religious causes. That’s 50%! Half of every charitable dollar went to a church, mosque, synagogue or other organization whose primary purpose is to promote a religion.

Thirty years later Americans gave $335 billion to charity, with just $106 billion – or 31% – going to religious organizations. Why the steep drop? [data from Giving USA]

One reason – the number of adherents to religious organizations has dropped as well, though not as precipitously. According to Gallup, in 1985, 91% of us were affiliated with some religion. That number dropped to 84% in 2011.

Weekly attendance may be another factor. Those who attend at least once a week are still doing so. But people who attend less than once per week are slipping into the “Seldom/Never” category, according to the Pew Research Center.

Competition for charitable dollars has also risen in the past thirty years. In 1984 approximately 400,000 nonprofits operated in the United States. Many of them were religious organizations. In 2010 that number peaked at 1.3 million nonprofits, and the large majority of them were not churches! That number has come down in the past three years, due to a tightening of IRS regulations, but it’s still near 1 million.

Beyond the big numbers, another way to understand competition is this: the nonprofits that aren’t religious organizations – especially the universities and hospitals – know how to raise money. They know what causes people to give. They study it and test it in the field, day after day, year after year. They are good at what they do. And they ask their supporters for support.

To its detriment, the church doesn’t. And ministries suffer because of it.

A colleague once reminded me, “Churches don’t have financial problems, they have spiritual problems.”

What is the answer?

This Thursday I’m joining the Kentuckiana Association of the UCC for their monthly meeting to discuss this question. Corydon Christian Church, 216 Mulberry Street, Corydon, IN, beginning at 10:30 AM. Email me if you’d like to join us.