Do you remember the story of the widow’s mites found in Mark 12:41-44?  Jesus is sitting at the temple, watching people give their tithes and offerings.  He witnessed many rich people come with large sums of money; then He saw a poor widow put two small coins into the offering box.  He told His disciples, “This poor widow has put in more than all of those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (vs. 43-44).

Finances can be a sticky topic.  Culturally, there are many unspoken rules about discussing money, yet it is a vital part of church operation.  Churches are many times almost completely reliant on the giving of their members to cover church expenses.  However, in recent years, giving seems to be dropping in alignment with economic problems.

In a recent study (ICM, 2014) conducted by the Institute for Church Ministry, researchers asked church clerks, “Approximately how many members of your church regularly pay tithe?”  Only 17% of churches reported over 60% of members paying tithe.  This study also showed that 23% of churches had 41-60% of members paying tithe, while the largest category showed 40%  of churches reported 21-40% of members paying tithe.

It should be noted that when active church members were asked this same question about their tithe-giving habits, a much higher percentage reported that they tithe than when reported by the church clerks.  This could be based on three possible factors:

  1. Church clerks were asked based on the total church membership, while individual surveys were conducted with members who attend regularly.  (About a third of the members in each local church in the NAD have stopped attending church and non-attenders rarely tithe.)
  2. There is likely a “halo effect” involved with self-reporting.  People who are surveyed tend to see themselves more positively and/or over-report if they feel a certain behavior is expected of them.
  3. Studies that include in-depth interviews of church clerks showed that they tend to underestimate how many members tithe regularly. For example, couples who turn in one tithe check instead of two might be counted as only one contributor.

In the same study, church clerks were asked about the offering-giving habits of their congregations.  A surprisingly low 7% of churches had over 60% or more of people giving offerings, with 14% of churches having 41-60% give, and 41% of churches having 21-40% give.  This data may be a little more accurate than the information collected for tithes, as this question made an allowance for giving units instead of asking about individuals.   

As you can see, church giving is much lower than one would think.  If we each gave our part – even if it was “out of poverty” just as the widow gave – think how much more the church could do, how many more souls could be saved, and how many more blessings could be received!