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Richard Stearns

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How Generous is the American Church?

Over the past few weeks, I blogged about the vast income disparity between the rich and the poor – even within the U.S. – and about the meager aid given by the U.S. One could argue that the burden of the problem lies with the very rich. While this may be true, I don’t understand why someone would be motivated to be generous or philanthropic – someone, that is, who is not a Christian. Christians are called to love, to respond compassionately to the needs of others, and to share what they have with others. This is one of the main mandates Christ gives to his church. So, the important question isn’t “how generous is the U.S.?”, but rather, “how generous is the church?”

The church in America is the wealthiest church in the history of the world. In his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Stearns tells us that the total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion. It would take just a little over 1% of the income of American Christians to lift the poorest 1 billion in the world out of extreme poverty.

American Christians, who make up about 5 percent of the Church worldwide, control half of global Christian wealth.

If tithing is defined as giving 10 percent or more of one’s pretax income to the church or to nonprofit ministries, only about 5% of American households tithe. The number of those called “born again” Christians in America who tithe is higher: 9%. Of those who call themselves “evangelical Christians,” 24% tithe. That still leaves 76% who are not tithing!

If we are not giving 10%, how much are we giving? The average giving of American church members in 2005 (pre-economic recession) was just 2.58 percent of their income, about 75% less than the oft-promoted 10%. Sadly, as our incomes have increased, our giving has significantly declined. In 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, giving averaged 3.3 percent, 27 percent more than what we gave in 2005.

If we look at where the money goes after it is received by the churches, we find that just about 2% of it goes to overseas missions of any kind. The other 98% stays in the U.S., within our churches and communities.

American Christians, the wealthiest Christians in all history are making to the world is just about 2 percent of 2 percent – actually about five ten-thousandths of our income. That amounts to 6 pennies per person per day that we give through our churches to the rest of the world.

If American Christians gave 10 percent of their incomes instead of the 2.5 percent we currently give, we would have an extra $168 billion to spend in funding the work of the Church worldwide!

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