If not in church, then where will “nones” learn to give?

A friend who is both the president of a Christian college and a proud grandfather talked about spending a recent Sunday morning on a lacrosse field along with hundreds of young players – his grandson among them – and their families. “I doubt that more than a handful of those parents had church on their minds. Athletics is our national religion and sports complexes are where families worship these day,” he mused.

shoe_fly_wings_13298Then speaking as the fundraiser he has become, my friend added, “Sunday mornings make me worry about the future of giving.”

And worry he should. Numerous studies highlight the correlation between regular church attendance and charitable donations. You don’t need a crystal ball to predict where giving in the U.S. is headed ten or twenty years hence. Drive by your neighborhood park on Sunday morning and you see the future.

Although donations overall have rebounded to almost pre-recession levels, the latest edition of Giving USA shows that houses of worship and other faith-based ministries are already feeling the pinch. Angela White and Jeff Small, consultants with Johnson, Grossnickle, and Associates, write:

Troublingly, we continue to see that recent declines in giving to religious organizations appear to be the new normal. Research suggests that a decline in overall religiosity in America has left more church pews empty each week, leaving offering trays less full. This trend puts added pressure not just on houses of worship, but on the extended infrastructure of religious organizations and programs like congregations of women religious, religiously affiliated schools, seminaries, and even religiously aligned social service organizations that – though they may not be included in the “giving to religion” subsector – have long relied on the giving power of local houses of worship to power their programs.

As Boomers pass from the giving scene, the ripple effect of the “new normal” for religious organizations will reach the whole of the nonprofit sector.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that charitable giving will go the way of the dinosaur in the United States. In fact, it’s a safe bet that mega-donors will emerge in the years to come, just as they have in the past.

However, bread-and-butter donors – the folks who keep local charities afloat with smaller gifts – will be in shorter supply. Empty seats in houses of worship will translate into fewer dollars contributed to all kinds of charitable causes – both faith-based and secular.

Clearly there’s work to be done on two fronts. First, if ever there was a moment for pastors to preach and teach stewardship, it’s now. Congregational leaders must do what they can to nurture hearts that are rich unto God.

Second, religious leaders – folks like the Christian college president with whom I began this article – must work, think, and imagine together about how to get stewardship education to the fast multiplying “nones” in our society. If Gen Xers and their younger sibs, Millennials, aren’t discovering the joy of giving via the church, then where?

Answering the question is the challenge of our day — every day, not just Sundays — because generous matters, today, tomorrow, and for eternity.

For more on this theme, see:

Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors. Where are the givers?

Reaching Millennials through stewardship evangelism

Debtors don’t donors make, unless . . .

What's your take on this topic?

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