Church attendance, generosity, and fundraising as ministry

Charitable giving is on the decline in the Sacramento (CA) region and a reporter for the local paper has traced the problem to its root – “a relatively low rate of residents who say they attend church regularly.”

choir_trio_sing_11282The article in the Sacramento Bee continues:

The areas in the nation with the highest rates of giving, according to the IRS figures, were the southern USA and Utah. Those areas also have the most residents who identify as ‘very religious,’ according to Gallup. In those places, tithing – giving of 10 percent of one’s income to church – is encouraged from the pulpit and ingrained in the culture.

It’s a different story in California. About 33 percent of Californians consider themselves very religious, compared to 40 percent nationwide, according to Gallup. In the Sacramento region, about 37 percent of residents are affiliated with a religious body, compared to 49 percent nationwide . . .

There’s the stinger – fewer folks in church correlates with fewer charitable dollars — and not just in Sacramento. Time after time, study after study, place after place, the importance of religious affiliation is a constant. It doesn’t take a prophet to decipher the proverbial handwriting on the wall.

Church attendance is in free fall, taking giving with it. And excuse my pessimism, I don’t expect a rebound anytime soon. Unless we find ways to generate faith-based generosity via non-church-based methods, happy days are not ahead. Which brings me back to fundraising as ministry – again.


Increasingly, parachurch organizations are the public face of the Christian faith and as such, are the first – or in many instances, only – opportunity for a non-churched public to encounter the Gospel message. As Thom Jeavons and I wrote in Growing Givers’ Hearts,

to be true to Jesus’ teachings in the work of resource development requires that fundraisers who are Christians help donors see choices they may make about giving in spiritual as well as practical terms . . . When development officers show as much concern for the faith and heart growth of donors as for the financial health of the organizations, they proclaim the Good News.

I’ve seen first-hand how as their hearts grow more generous toward God, individuals become more generous to all kinds of ministries and other good causes. As faith-based organizations re-vision their fundraising programs as ministry, we can expect that the whole world will benefit from the increased generosity that follows.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not promoting fundraising as ministry simply as a corrective to the downturn in charitable giving, although I believe a ministry-focused approach to fundraising is a wonderful way to get at the root of the problem identified by the Sacramento Bee reporter. Nor am I giving up on churches as the primary source of stewardship education. I’m committed to working hard on that front, including through board service with the Ecumenical Stewardship Center.

Rather, I read the Sacramento Bee article (and others like it) as a clarion call to fundraisers employed by faith-based nonprofits to recognize the full potential of the ministry of fundraising– for the good of their organizations, the spiritual benefit of donors, the health of their communities, and for the glory of God. In short, generosity matters too much for us to give in to the stats.

For more on the generosity, church attendance, and fundraising as ministry, see:

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

The ongoing case of the shrinking offering plate

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



  1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  2. Really appreciated this statement (and have found it to be the case): “When development officers show as much concern for the faith and heart growth of donors as for the financial health of the organizations, they proclaim the Good News.”

  3. Rebekah, you’ve nailed it! The decline in charitable giving has repercussions well beyond the offering plate. Thanks for connecting the dots.

    • And thank you, Lori, for your good work with congregations. This isn’t an either/or situation. We need to do all we can to encourage healthy, generous churches, even as we challenge faith-based nonprofits to embrace the ministry aspects of their fundraising programs.

  4. Rebekah, Thank you for raising awareness of this growing problem for non-church organizations. As you are well aware, colleges and universities struggle without the large donors. Even for religious colleges, many of the small to medium donors seem to be closing their wallets. If it weren’t for alumni or parents of students, the small to medium colleges would find themselves on the shoals of a river that is drying up.

    Now transition to the community based service organizations that are not tied to a church. Where do they go for funding? It seems that the “quasi-public” organizations are in the most difficulty. I know of a Senior Center that is caught between a rock and a hard place. Their public funding has been cut. The state budget has shuffled off services to the elderly out of the state budget to state “profits” from the lotteries. The lotteries bring in more and more money each year. However, the state is milking this cash cow for all its worth and then some, as they shift take more of the proceeds to fund more services. Vice taxes are helping to fund public education. Getting back to the one particular senior center. Because of a sharp increase in the number of seniors that it serves weekly, it has outgrown its current location. The local township owns the building and is pressuring the senior center to pay more for more space. The center can’t afford the new rent, but desperately needs more space to serve its current population. They have even had to cut back staff positions because of budget woes. They are looking for new space, but are finding affordable space at a premium. Their previous fund raising efforts have generally been restricted to sandwich and bake sales, which don’t raise enough money to pay staff salaries, build a building or pay rent. When they ask local residents to contribute, the typical response has been; “Isn’t the state paying for that service? The TV ads for the lottery say so.”

    I’m trying not to be pessimistic. However, in one of my more “realistic moments” unless you’re a church, or a charity to which you can attach a face of someone or some animal suffering, you’re in for a long haul, in trying to raise funds in this climate.

What's your take on this topic?

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