While a majority of evangelicals say tithing — giving 10% of one's income to the church — is a biblical commandment, only an estimated 13% engage in the practice, while half give away less than 1% of their income annually, a new study shows.
The study, "The Generosity Factor: Evangelicals and Giving," which will be formally released on Nov. 1, reflects data collected from 1,000 American evangelical Protestants and highlights how and where evangelicals give money. It also reveals significant differences in giving among age groups.
The research from Grey Matter Research and Infinity Concepts, a brand communication agency that "inspires people of faith to action through consulting, branding, fundraising, public relations, creative, traditional media and digital media," also points to longterm concerns for donor-supported organizations.
“We … calculate average giving for all evangelicals, including those who give nothing. This is a more complete picture of American evangelicals. Among all of them, the average is 2.4% of income to church and 0.8% to charity, for a total of 3.2% of household income going to church or charity,” the researchers said.
When the data was broken down beyond averages, which researchers noted “are usually inflated by a few people providing large numbers,” the picture on giving among evangelicals was “even more grim.”
“The median for church giving is 0.57% — yes, that’s just over one-half of one percent — while for charitable giving, it is 0.1% (or one-tenth of one percent). Total giving to church and charity combined shows a median figure of exactly 1%. Think about that figure for a moment: half of all American evangelical Protestants give less than 1% of their household income to church or charity,” they said.
The study found that the average evangelical gave $1,923 to the Church and $622 to charity over the past 12 months, for a total of $2,545 in giving. At the median mark, however, evangelicals only gave $340 to the Church and $50 to charity, for a total of $390.
“Of course, these figures include the many evangelicals who give nothing at all. If we just consider those who donate to church, the average church giving is $2,603, with a median of $800. And if we just consider charitable donors, the average is $1,067 given to charities, with a median of $300,” researchers noted.
The study found that people who were more engaged with their church and faith tended to give more to their church, and vice versa.
The higher the household income of the evangelical, the more they were also found to give. Among evangelicals with a household income below $30,000 annually, the median total giving was found to be $300. This doubled to $600 when people earned $30,000 to under $60,000. It more than doubled to $1,400 when the income was $60,000 to under $100,000. At six figures, median giving registered at $2,200.
When researchers compared the rate of giving by income, however, not much difference was found.
“The average generosity for the lowest-income evangelicals is 2.4%, rising to 3.2% for those earning $30,000 to less than $60,000. But then it only bumps up slightly to 3.5% for those earning $60,000 to under $100,000, and slightly again to 3.7% for those with six-figure incomes. So the lowest-income evangelical households show lower giving levels, but there is relatively little difference in average generosity levels between an evangelical in a household earning $50,000 and in one earning $150,000,” they noted.
Researchers pointed out that evangelical giving isn’t more generous than that of other Americans. They cited a 2017 Grey Matter Research paper called Americans Are Far Less Generous Than They Think They Are, which found that the average donor gave 3.2% of their income to the Church and/or charity.
“The average evangelical donor in 2021 is giving 4%, which at first glance appears to be at least somewhat better than Americans in general. However, evangelicals are far more likely to attend church than are Americans in general, and therefore also more likely to give to church, which impacts the figures,” researchers said.
“Among American adults who attend worship once a month or more (church, temple, mosque, etc.), the average giving was 4.2% of household income in 2017. Today, among church-going evangelical donors (which is most of them), the average is 4.1% of income going to church or charity. So, the average evangelical Christian is just as ungenerous as the average American,” they added.
Giving was also found to vary by age, with older Americans tending to give more than younger ones.
The study sought to explain the findings by suggesting that people could have less comfort giving away resources to churches and charities because of the rise in the gig economy, where income is less secure. Direct giving, which is more popular among younger people, could also be a factor in the findings.
“People — particularly younger people — are becoming more and more comfortable with crowdfunding, financially helping people they know, or even just supporting an individual stranger in need,” researchers noted.
They cited a study conducted in 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, showing that older Americans were more likely than younger people to give to charities and religious congregations.
“Younger adults were substantially more likely than older people to give money or help to a stranger in need, give money to friends or family in need, or especially to give to others through crowdfunding such as GoFundMe or Kiva,” the report said.
“In total, senior adults were 29% more likely to have given through congregations or traditional charities in the past three months or so than were those from Generation Z, but Gen Z was 31% more likely than seniors to have employed direct giving.”
Researchers pointed to this cultural shift of young people giving to causes they are passionate about as something churches and religious organizations should take into consideration for the future.
“Younger people are giving — just not in the traditional ways to congregations and charities. Will their support switch from direct giving to supporting churches and charities as they age? Or will they, like previous generations, substantially increase their giving as they get older — but through direct giving, not through traditional charitable methods?" researchers asked.
"There’s no way to know for sure, but we can say that the environmental factors which have traditionally led Americans to give more as they age may be in the midst of change,” they continued. “This should make congregations, charities, and ministries a bit nervous about their long-term financial futures. More importantly, it should make them start strategizing about how to maintain their financial health in the face of potentially significant societal changes.”