Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission from Ministry Watch, an independent donor advocate that profiles public charities, church and parachurch ministries.
By Anne Stych
Tithing to religious organizations is still a widespread standard among churchgoers, but how and where they give is changing.
According to a new study by Lifeway Research, more than three fourths of American Protestant churchgoers think tithing is a biblical command that still applies today (77%), down from 83% in 2017. Ten percent say they don’t believe tithing is a biblical command, and 13% say they are uncertain.
Only half (51%) give 10% or more of their income to the church they attend. Three in 10 (31%) say they give a tithe, and 19% give more. The percentage of churchgoers who give 10% of their income or more has remained relatively steady over the past five years (51% vs. 54%).
More than 1 in 5 (22%) say they try to give but aren’t always consistent. Sixteen percent say they regularly give less than a tithe, while another 9% say their finances make it difficult to give, and 2% say they do not give.
“Believing God wants you to tithe and doing it are two different things,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Like many exhortations in Scripture, giving your finances to God is not necessarily easy in practice.”
As for where they give, most of those surveyed believe tithe money should be given to their home church (90%). Others think giving to Christian ministries (55%), an individual in need (42%), another church they don’t regularly attend (34%), or a secular charity (25%) is also acceptable.
Those who feel least strong about tithing include young adult churchgoers ages 18 to 34 (66%) and Lutherans (59%). Those most likely to say tithing is biblical and currently applicable include evangelical Christians and those who attend a worship service at least four times a month.
And although the past five years have seen a noticeable increase in online giving across electronic formats, most churchgoers still give cash at church (53%) while 30% give a check at church and 9% mail one.
Online giving happens most often via a church website (23%), but also through the giver’s bank (14%), through an app the church provides (7%), or via text (2%). About 8% of churchgoers have automatic payments set up for their tithes.
“While electronic giving has grown significantly in the last five years, 6 in 10 churchgoers who give do not yet utilize electronic giving methods to give to their church,” McConnell said. “Churches would likely be better served by emphasizing the motivation to give than the mode.”