Taking the offering or offering worship?

In a class this morning, we were discussing the challenge of giving in the evangelical church. You are probably aware that the average giving of an evangelical in America is around 2.5%. You may not be aware that there are significant generational differences within that number. Older evangelicals give a decidedly higher percentage of their income than do younger ones. So, we got into an interesting discussion of why this was and what we can and should do about it.

Now at least some of this may have to do with the soccial demographics of affluence in this country. It’s entirely possible that older Christians are simply better off financially than younger ones. I don’t know that this is the case, but it’s possible. And, I’m sure that this is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors. But I wanted to highlight a couple of things that I think are at work here.

First, the younger generations, as we all know, are significantly less driven by duty and institution. Indeed, institutional loyalty is, for many, virtually non-existent. Unlike previous generations, the younger generations won’t give just because they’re supposed to. But, that doesn’t mean that they won’t give. Actually, when these younger Christians find something that they resonate with, they can be exceedingly generous. So, the question is, how do we help them resonate with the church?

That leads me to my second point. The younger generations want to give to mission, not institution. They want to know that their offerings (nad their lives) are making a difference. If we want them to step up to the plate financially, we need to convince them that the church (your church) really has a mission worth investing in. If we find that these younger Christians are not resonating with the church, and consequently are not giving, it may be because we have not succeeded in convincing them that our churches really are missional.

Finally, in many of the evangelical churches I’ve attended, we’re doing a terrible job celebrating giving as worship. Instead of seeing giving as inherently connected to a lifestyle of praise, it feels more like and intermission or addendum to the real task of worship. I find it interesting that many churches sound almost apologetic when it comes time to take the offering. We make it very clear that we don’t want this to be a burden, we don’t want visitors to feel obligated, etc. What we often don’t make clear is that this is an expression of worship. This should be a time of joyous celebration, glorifying in the bountiful goodness of God’s grace. Even for those who lack financial resources, it can be a time of gratitude for the gifts we have received and a renewed awareness of how much we do have to offer back in gratitude. Instead, the “offering” sometimes feel s more like paying a bill than worshiping the King. We need to teach this generation to worship.

I’m sure there’s more. But those were the issues that immediately jumped to my mind.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on May 11, 2010, in The Church and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. There are some very practical reasons why older evangelicals give a higher percentage of their income than do younger ones that does not require us to make any bad assumptions about anyone from any particular generation. As we mature, our earning potential increases, our living expenses decrease, and our disposable income increases. By the time we reach our late 50’s and early 60’s, most of us have paid off our mortgage, kids have all moved out, and we are at the peak of our earning years. As a result, we tend to appear more generous when in fact we just have more cash to be generous with. As we mature even further, we have accumulated significant savings and the value of our homes has often doubled in value. This very western process of accumulating wealth enables many people very late in life to make rather significant gifts that they would have never imagined being able to do before.

    For example, if a 30-year old (the younger evangelical) earns $50,000 and tithes ten-percent, the church receives $5,000. If a 55-year old (an older evangelical) earns $100,000 and gives five-percent, the church receives $5,000. Who is more generous? Finally, if a 80-year old gives $15,000 in appreciated stock which originally cost him $3,000 is he more generous than either of the other two?

  2. That’s a good point. My understanding, though, is that younger Christians tend to give less (not more) as a percentage of their overall income. So, the difference is proportional rather than just being raw dollars.

    That said, I actually had no intention of disparaging younger generational Christians. (I am one.) My point was only that younger generations tend to give for different reasons, and that some (many?) churches are struggling to connect with them on this point.

  3. That may be correct- that younger people give a smaller percentage of their income however this does not change the fact that the older you are the greater your disposable income is likely to be.

    Hypothetically, consider this:

    A young person raising 3-4 kids and a mortgage with an annual income of $60,000 might have $5-10,000 in disposable income every year.

    An older person, no more kids, paid off the mortgage and the same annual income might have 2-3 times the disposable income. The older person can now afford to give a larger portion of his or her income.

    I have discussed this with some pastors and their reaction is as if I am trying to defend younger people- that’s not the case. I am simply trying to ensure that pastors and other church leaders understand this very typical process in our financial lives. If we fail to recognize these sorts of things, we end up accusing young people of being selfish which undoubtedly only causes more harm. In economics we use life-cycle and saving theories that explain financial behavior at various times in our lives.

    • You make a great point. And I agree that we should not try to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to giving. That’s actually why I prefer not to use the term “tithe” when I’m talking about giving as worship. Too many people associate a “tithe” with a strict, law-like 10% that they then treat as a bill much like their utility bill. I was trying (probably unsuccessfully) to allude to this when I mentioned that even people with little disposable income could approach the offering as worship if the time was intended to focus on praise and gratitude for the blessings we have received (whatever those might be).

      Having said that, I’m still not convinced that this alone accounts for the lower giving amounts. Granted that my experience is entirely anecdotal, I’ve talked to too many people in my generation and younger who aren’t giving that much to the church because they simply aren’t connected to the church-as-institution in the same way that prior generations were. And, they haven’t been taught that giving can be anything besides institutional support. So, I think there’s room to improve in this area, not by guilting them into tithing more, but by helping them connect with the deeper missional and doxological reasons for giving.

  4. I think to many pastors expect the offering plates to again look like they did in the roaring 90’s. In this new economy, we will be hard pressed to keep up with the giving trends of the last 20 years. The younger missional and emerging churches of today won’t have the cheap financing and strong wages that established and built most of the boomers mega-churches.

    • Do you think that will lead these newer churches to be more fiscally responsible, or do you see any danger of these churches trying to borrow beyond their means with the (probably unrealistic) expectation that the money will come in eventually?

  5. I am sure it will be a little of both- you will certainly have a fair share of entitled gen-x’ers who insist their congregations need more space than they can afford- others will refuse to build anything and insist on meeting in the basement of the first baptist.

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