First some good news, then the bad about giving and the faithful

How many research studies does it take to confirm the faith/generosity correlation? Apparently at least one more. The latest report chronicling the giving patterns of the faithful comes from Jumpstart, a nonprofit research group, and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

positive_angel_button_8858Drawing on data from two surveys – the National Study of American Religious Giving and the National Study of American Jewish Giving – the findings confirm what other research teams have reported over the years.  Once again, the most religiously devote Americans show up as the most generous.

As reported in Connected to Give: Faith Communities,

about 75 percent of people who frequently attend religious services gave to congregations, and 60 percent gave to religious charities or nonreligious ones. By comparison, fewer than half of people who said they didn’t attend faith services regularly supported any charity, even a even secular one.

No surprises here. But the findings are a timely reminder that the grass really is greener on the faith-based side of the philanthropic pastures.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there are many fewer sheep (donors) in our green pastures than years past.

According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, conservative Protestant denominations have moved from growth to flat-lined numbers. And the oldline Protestants are losing members at a greater rate than ever before.

And here’s more bad news, this from the General Social Surveys of the National Opinion Research Center as cited in Christian Century magazine. Even among those who remain in the church, confidence in organized religion is in free fall.

The percentage of Americans who have a great deal of confidence in organized religion declined dramatically from 2000 to 2010 – and the decline was nearly the same for evangelicals as for oldliners. Surprisingly, the biggest decline among any age group within these families is among older evangelicals  . . . from 42 percent to 26.


The long-term impact of declining church attendance is obvious – at least to me. As fewer people find their way into America’s churches, fewer people are encouraged to give as an expression of their faith. Empty seats in houses of worship translate almost immediately into fewer dollars contributed to all kinds of charitable causes – both faith-based and secular.

Consider for example that the Connected to Give pegs median giving among the faithful at $775 a year ($375 to congregations, $150 to religiously identified nonprofits, and $250 to secular charities). If 50,000 folks (a low-ball number) walk away from or lose confidence in their churches in the coming year and their giving dips to the national median ($175), that’s a potential loss of $30 million. Calculate this out for a decade or two and we’re talking serious money.

Clearly there’s work to be done on two fronts. First, if ever there was a moment for faith communities to preach, teach, and practice generosity, it’s now.  Second, congregational leaders must do what they can to hold the hearts of folks currently in the pews even as they seek to reach the “nones” in our communities.

Pastors, fundraisers, generous Christians, it will take all of us working together to counteract the bad news with a winsome presentation of the Good. This is our time – our challenge. And not just to boost the numbers in the present.  This is math with eternal implications.

What's your take on this topic?

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