Few Churchgoers Tithe, Study Says

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Linda Pateo of Gardendale, Ala., says she and her husband, Robert, try to give 5 percent of their income to their church and 5 percent to Christian charities, but it's difficult with three children in college.

"I have strong feelings that God expects first fruits," Pateo said. "Sometimes we fall short. It's something we are all called to do."

A recent poll by pollster George Barna shows that only 5 percent of Americans say they tithe, or give at least 10 percent of their income to religious congregations and charitable groups.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryStewardship

Posted May 30, 2008 at 2:22 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Philip Snyder wrote:

Giving for the Kingdom of God is a very important measure of our faith. 
See my slant on things.

Phil Snyder

May 30, 3:18 pm | [comment link]
2. saj wrote:

sounds like supporting denominational headquarters might be an area that many traditions may want to take a look at .... I wonder how much given to the church “government” could not be done directly or on a local level.  Wonder what salaries are at 815.  I sure would be reluctant to send any there—even if I was a “traditional”.

May 30, 3:37 pm | [comment link]
3. saj wrote:

P.S.  Particularly with traditions that have several layers of giving—local diocese and national!

May 30, 3:38 pm | [comment link]
4. physician without health wrote:

I don’t send a penny to 815 or to Carpenter House, for that matter.

May 30, 10:20 pm | [comment link]
5. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

My friend Doub LeBlanc, a well known Christian journalist and a devout evangelical Episcopalian, is currently writing a book on tithing and why it’s important.  Now granted, it’s a hard sell for those who have never tried it; but once people dare to practice that essential spiritual discipline, they seldom abandon it, even during hard times.  So I look forward to Doug’s book appearing sometime next year, and I hope many people will be inspired by it to give tithing a try.

The fact is, we all need to give generously for the sake of our own spiritual health; it helps free us from being possessed by our possessions and increases our faith in God, as we see him provide for our needs.

Ironically, my experience as a pastor shows that generally those of modest means are better at tithing than those who are well off.  Maybe they’ve been forced to trust God more often.  But in any case, it’s true.

David Handy+

May 30, 11:08 pm | [comment link]
6. Timothy wrote:

Perhaps the Barna findings are the reason why the <a >God Pie</a> was recently uploaded to YouTube.

May 30, 11:09 pm | [comment link]
7. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Over and over again, I hear that to tithe is to give 10% of your income to the Church.  Once in a while, you will hear that it is alright to split it between charity and the Church.

What you never EVER hear is that you should consume some of your own tithe.  Why is that?  The scriptures definitely teach that for two out of three years, you and your family are supposed to consume your own tithe and donate the leftovers.  In the third year, the year of the tithe, you are supposed to give all the tithe to the priest.

Why isn’t that ever taught?  Isn’t teaching that the whole tithe always goes to the Church, [or even to the Church and charities] going against what the Scriptures teach?  This isn’t a matter of grabbing one verse and building a doctrine.  It is in multiple verses in three different chapters.

Read for yourself:

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  Deuteronomy 14:22-29

These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land.  Deuteronomy 12:1

To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you.  Deuteronomy 12:5b-7

You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts.  Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the LORD your God at the place the LORD your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to.  Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.  Deuteronomy 12:17-19

But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the LORD will choose.  Present your burnt offerings on the altar of the LORD your God, both the meat and the blood. The blood of your sacrifices must be poured beside the altar of the LORD your God, but you may eat the meat.  Deuteronomy 12:27,27

When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.  Then say to the LORD your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.  I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done everything you commanded me.  Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  Deuteronomy 26:12-15

So, why isn’t this view of tithing EVER taught?  I have heard some try to tap dance around this by saying that this is a second tithe that we should be doing on top of the first tithe.  I don’t believe that.  I think that position is ridiculous.  However, for the sake of argument let us suppose that it is true.  The question remains, why isn’t the view that some of your tithe is supposed to be consumed by you and your family EVER taught?

The way I read it, and I could be wrong, the obligation of the tithe [which is a whole other theological discussion about law and grace for Christians] is to give 10% every third year to the “Levite”, etc.  For two out of three years, we are supposed to be consuming our own tithe and rejoicing so that we can see how abundantly God has blessed us.  In those two years, out of that abundance we are rejoicing in, we are to share with the Levites, widows, orphans, and aliens among us.  The third year, we give it all away.  Sabbatical giving, what a concept!  But is it ever taught?  EVER?  I have sure never heard it being taught.  I wonder what would happen if it were taught?  I wonder what would happen if Christians were taught to give out of theri abundance and out of joy instead of out of legal obligation?

I know that in my case, we give above the legal obligation, thanks be to God.  Maybe, just maybe, God knew what He was talking about when He laid out His plan for sabbatical giving in a three year cycle.  Maybe He knows us and how we think and how we feel and how we respond to legal obligations contrasted to how we respond when we feel rich.

But hey, what do I know?  I am just an ignorant hick…but I can read.

May 31, 11:46 am | [comment link]
8. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Sick & Tired of Nuance (#7),

You are not “an ignorant hick,” but an observant reader who is raising a fully legitimate question.  I suspect that there are several contributing actors to the strange silence in our churches about certain features of the biblical teaching about tithing.  Let me take a stab at suggesting a few reasons for that silence.

First, Deut. 12 and 14 presuppose an agricultural society in which virtually everyone is involved in the growing of crops and livestock.  Applying the ancient provisions for offering the first-fruits of the fields and herds to our modern social context isn’t as simple and clear as we are used to thinking applying the Bible should be.  And these complications inhibit how the teaching of tithing is done.

Second, the unique law in Deut. 14:28-29 that calls for that striking second, additional 10% every third year (and I think that is its plain meaning) to be given for the support of the “Levites” and the at risk people in the population (the orphans, widows, and resident aliens or immigrants) is a special provision found only here in the whole Bible (IIRC).  This presupposes that there is no other welfare system in place to care for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, whichagain raises a certain challenge in terms of its applicability today.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m NOT saying it isn’t applicable, and that we are off the hook in terms of being free not to obey it, just that it’s more complicated than we are normally accustomed to dealing with in conservative church circles.

Third, the various animal sacrifices that the Pentateuch calls for would have often been the only times meat was eaten in ancient Israel.  Most of the people apparently were subsistence farmers who were barely getting by (like most of the people in the Global South today).  And most of the animal sacrifices involved eating the majority of the bull, sheep, or goat after in edible parts were burned on the altar and the blood had been drained and offered to God as well.  And so tithing was very definitely associated with feasting and rejoicing together over God’s goodness and doing so in God’s presence.  Again, this certainly raises some challenges in terms of how to transfer all that tithing meant for the ancient Israelites into comparable terms for us today.

Finally, there is the whole question of how the legal provisions of Deut. 12 and 14 fit into the teaching of the Pentateuch as a whole.  In part, that raises the whole comple issue of source analysis.  If you are familiar with the usual scholarly view, which sees the Torah as a very skillful compilation of traditional material from at least four major traditions (the famous J, E, D, and P sources), then all I’ll say here is that the passages cited above all reflect the distinctive D tradition.  For example there is no distinction between “(Aaronic) priest” and “Levite” in D as there is in P; and D is extremely emphatic about the need for all sacrifices to place ONLY in Jerusalem and nowhere else, quite unlike the earlier J & E traditions.  Reconciling the differences between the various traditions is a crucial part of the whole challenge.  And again that raises some difficult challenges that conservative Christians aren’t used to or experienced in handling.

Now I realize that this may amount to exactly the kind of “nuance” that the poster of #7 is so “sick and tired of.”  And I’m not in the least trying to dismiss the text of Deut. 12 & 14.  Far from it.  I believe in tithing and my wife and I have made it our practice as a couple ever since we were married over 30 years ago.  And we have no regrets.  It’s been a blessing (see Malachi 3).

I’m just suggesting a few possible reasons why so many pastors chose to ignore some of the “fine print” details about tithing in the Old Testament.  I hope that helps answer some questions, even while it may raise others.

David Handy+

May 31, 2:13 pm | [comment link]
9. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

A clarifying footnote to my earlier #8.

Tithing as a principle precedes the giving of the Mosaic Law.  Abraham gave tithes to that mysterious priestly figure, Melchizedek, in Gen. 14.

The D perspective on tithing in Deut. 14 should be compared with the P or Priestly perspective on tithing in Numbers 18.  Among other things, in Num 18, the people give their tithes to the whole Levite clan, and the Levites than give a tithe of that tithe to the “priests,” i.e., the descendants of Aaron or in practice the Zadokites.  In the D tradition, there is no distinction between Levites and priests but all are called “Levitical priests.”  But regardless, in both D and P, the clergy have no inherited land of their own, nor farms or outside jobs.  They are totally dependent on the people being faithful in giving their tiethes and offerings to the Lord for their sustinence.

Finally, in the New Testament, there is no mention of tithing, but I strongly suspect that most Christians gave MORE than a tithe, not less.  The NT principle is wonderfully clear and simple: as you sow, so shall you reap.  The more you give, the greater your reward.  But it is all to be done cheerfully, and not under any sense of compulsion.  The most extended treatment of stewardship in the NT is in 2 Cor. 8-9.

I hope that helps and sheds more light than heat.

David Handy+

May 31, 4:29 pm | [comment link]
10. Ross wrote:

For tithing, I use a trick that I got from my parents:  I have a second checking account, designated solely for charitable purposes.  I set up a direct-deposit such that 10% of my gross pay goes directly to that account, while the rest of my paycheck goes into my regular checking account.

The advantage of this is that you never “see” the money in your regular cash flow, so giving it away doesn’t have nearly the same sting.  Plus, you always know how much you have available to give; it’s the balance in the “charity checking” account.

As it happens, I give most of mine directly to different charities (Doctors Without Borders, Heifer Project, several others) rather than to my church.  This is because my employer has a very generous matching program for charitable contributions made by employees—they match dollar-for-dollar up to an annual limit of $12,000 per employee—but not to religious organizations.  (There is an exception for dedicated secular programs run by religious organizations, like food banks or homeless shelters.)

So I give a modest amount of money to my church—and a great deal more of my time—but the bulk of my monetary giving goes to secular charities because it’s effectively doubled by my employer’s matching.

May 31, 4:51 pm | [comment link]
11. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Ross (#10),

Thanks for that testimony.  Designating a separate account for all your charitable giving and having 10% go there automatically by direct deposit is a fabulous idea.  I’m glad you shared it.

David Handy+

May 31, 7:51 pm | [comment link]
12. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

New Reformation Advocate
David Handy+,

Thank you for your thoughtful response.  Both posts were very interesting and informative.  I was aware that offerings were instituted in the Biblical record as far back as the time of Cain and Abel.  I was also aware that Abram offered a tithe to Melkezidek and that it was prior to his covenent with God in which God promises to make him the father of many nations.  [Interesting side note:  Clean and unclean animals were designated for passage on the ark with Noah (Gen 7:2)...before God gave man meat from animals to eat (Gen 9:1-4).]

Here is the passage: 

And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.  And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus.

And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.  And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale.

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.  Genesis 14:14-20

This is a problematic model to apply to tithing as it is taught today.  First, as I noted before, it was prior to God’s covenant with Abram.  I am not sure of the implications for Christians/non-Christians.

Second, the tithe was preceded by Melchizedek giving bread and wine to Abram and his army and blessing them.  This image is a good parallel with communion on one level, but on another level it is very problematic.  This was no memorium or mystical offering by Melchizedek.  He fed Abram and his hungry army after a campaign of hard travel and harder fighting.

Which leads me to the third problem with using this as a model for contemporary tithing by Christians.  This tithe that was offered was from the spoils “after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale.”  How exactly does that apply to a modern Christian?  Are we to offer a tithe after we successfully slaughter our enemies?

The fourth and final problem that I see with using this for a model for contemporary tithing, is that it only happened once.

So, to sum up; if I want to tithe like Abram did to Melchizedek, it would have to be before I am in a covenant with God, after I slaughter my enemies, after being fed and refreshed [along with all my family and friends] by a priest, it is to be from the spoils of my slaughtered enemies, and I only do it one time my entire life.

I don’t think that is actually the model of tithing that the Church wants me to follow any more than using Abram for a model on marriage.  I don’t have a half sister, but I wouldn’t marry her if I did, and I don’t have more than one wife at the same time.  I am not tearing across the country side with my 318 man posse, slaughtering my enemies and giveing their money to the priest who feeds us.

In fact, I don’t think that “tithing” is for the Church any more than the temple tax is.  I think it was for Israel.  As you pointed out, the New Testament does not tell Christians to tithe.  In fact, Paul goes so far as to say in his discussion on offerings:  “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” 2 Corinthians 8:8

This is what I believe and practice:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

  “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever.” 

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

We should support the Church and charities generously.  I would love it if I earned enough to give God 90% and could live on the remaining 10%.  In fact, that is a good goal.  My needs are few, my wants are simple, and my family is small.  I love God, the Church, and my fellow man.  I have been striving earnestly to be able to give more, not because God needs my money or becuase I am under a law to give; but becuase I want to excel in this grace of giving, and because I want to share in the privilege of sharing this service to the saints. 

Thanks again for your thoughts and this discussion.


May 31, 8:02 pm | [comment link]
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