Giving to religion has been in a steady decline since 1968 and the economy has little to do with this. Most church leaders either ignore this or object to the conclusion that the economy is not the reason. However consistent studies have shown that even during times of economic prosperity giving to religion has declined. There are multiple reasons for this decline. One major factor is the decline in attendance from 1968 to now. Other factors such as the secularization of America, where now one in five are not affiliated with any religion, are to blame. Whatever or whoever is to blame the fact remains, giving is declining.
2013 projections are for giving to religion to remain flat or decline slightly. Several studies are projecting this. Recently I met with a client church that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. They told me that in a recent meeting with SBC executives it was stated that giving to Southern Baptist churches looked to be facing a decline. When the largest Protestant denomination in the country is seeing a decline the rest of us better brace ourselves.
Four Trends That Are Impacting Giving to the Church
The following are my observations through studying scores of studies, articles and from talking personally to a multitude of donors around the country on behalf of churches. I believe these trends are impacting us.
1. The demographic remapping of America. Today whites make up 64% of the population. By 2045 minorities will be 51% of that total. Not only is the color of our nation and thus our churches changing but so is the median age. The Silent Generation or those born before 1945 are moving off the stage. This generation has contributed the vast majority of the dollars that has sustained the Church since WWII. Now studies show that Baby Boomers, once considered the selfish generation, are giving the most dollars to the church. However Baby Boomers are nearing and entering retirement. Thus two of the most powerful giving pools from which churches draw from are changing. The Church MUST figure out how to connect with younger generations AND get them to give.
2. Technology is changing the way we do everything. Just look around you. How many of you are reading this right now on a tablet or even a smartphone? A recent study revealed that Millennials, those age 18 to 32 are 62% likely to give by smartphone. Think about how many checks you write a month. We have become a checkless and cashless society. The Starbucks of the world have realized this and have adapted their means of collection to fit the desires of their customers. Yet in most churches if you don’t bring a check with you or have cash you are out of luck when it comes to the offering. Most churches still rely solely on a 19th century means of collection! The Church MUST provide multiple means for giving matching the current trends of today.
3. Americans are feeling less secure. There are two major reasons for this insecurity, 9/11 and the recession. Uncertainty has become the word of the day. We are uncertain if we will have a job next week. We are uncertain if our 401K’s will be worth anything so that we can retire. Seniors face the uncertainty of whether or not they will outlive their money that gains little in interest these days. The result is that Americans are more cautious than ever with their hard earned money. Technically the recession has been over for years but emotionally it lingers on in the psyche of Americans. This uncertainty is showing up in giving to the Church. The Church MUST show how giving brings blessings and security not only to society but to the individual.
4. Giving to charity has become competitive. With Americans feeling less secure which translates into tighter budgets, it stands to reason that giving money away becomes more problematic. Recent studies have shown that younger generations of donors give to less charitable causes than their parents and grandparents. Whereas those born before 1945 support on average 6.2 charities, Millennials support half that number at 3.3. Not only that but Millennials are looking for more accountability, transparency and above all that their gift matters. Millennials will give but you have to pull the right levers. The Church MUST communicate a compelling vision of how giving to a church makes a positive difference in our world.
It is time to stop rearranging the chairs on the Titanic! Most churches act as if nothing has changed. They are oblivious to what is right in front of them. This ostrich approach threatens any reversal in the decline in giving. The result is that we will have far less money to do missions and ministry. At a time when our message is needed more than ever we will be hampered by a lack of funding. Our ship is sinking and now is the time to act.
The key question is what about your church? We should all be concerned about the overall state of the Church. However you can’t do much about the church across town. You can begin to take action to keep your ship from sinking. What steps are you taking to reverse the decline in giving?
Mark Brooks- The Stewardship Coach
Founder and President, The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions