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Posted: 8/22/03

TITHING TAKES A TUMBLE:
Fewer households give a tenth

By Ken Walker

Baptist Press

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–The news that tithing declined by about 62 percent last year presents the church with both a warning and a challenge, say several experts in Christian financial and theological circles.

Earlier this year, the Barna Research Group reported the results of a survey of 1,010 American adults that showed the proportion of households tithing–giving 10 percent of income–to churches dropped from 8 percent in 2001 to just 3 percent in 2002.

“Different challenges have caused people to choose not to tithe,” researcher George Barna said. “For some, the soft economy has either diminished their household income or led to concerns about their financial security. For others, the nation's political condition, in terms of terrorism and the war in Iraq, has raised their level of caution.”

However, others trace the root of the problem to a failure to educate people about biblical stewardship.

Howard Dayton, chief executive officer of Crown Financial Ministries in Gainesville, Ga., believes the church has made a strategic error. By focusing solely on how members should handle 10 percent of their money from God's perspective, church leaders have neglected teaching anything about the other 90 percent, thus leaving people unprepared for comprehensive stewardship.

“People don't know what God says about how to earn money, save it, spend it and invest it,” said Dayton, who wrote Crown's small-group studies, which are used by 5,000 churches nationwide. “Others aren't motivated to give because they don't know what God says about giving.”

This lapse could sound an ominous warning for the church over the coming 10 to 15 years.

During the 1990s, one Southern Baptist pastor told Dayton that members over age 65 accounted for 58 percent of his church's donations. As the older members died, it required five people under age 35 to replace an elder's giving.

“His question to me was, 'What's going to happen when these dear old saints go home?'” Dayton recalled. “He said, 'We won't be able to fund the work.'”

This trend affects para-church ministries as well, Dayton added, mentioning one whose average supporter was age 34 in 1992 and age 52 a decade later.

However, education can reverse this trend, Dayton insisted.

Within the past year, Crown surveyed 60 churches. It discovered that within three years of completing its biblically based study, the average participant had reduced debt by $20,000, saved $10,000 and increased giving by 62 percent.

One example is Clearview Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn. There, participants in one small group collectively paid off $150,000 in debt, according to Gary Aylor of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Another way the average church misses it is that the only time the pastor speaks about money is when they have a capital campaign or a stewardship Sunday,” Dayton said. “That's totally wrong.”

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