By Mark Brooks
Giving to religion has been in a steady decline since 1968 — and the economy has little to do with it.
Most church leaders either ignore this decline, or object to the conclusion that the economy isn’t the reason. However, consistent studies have shown that even during times of economic prosperity, giving to religion has declined.
There are multiple reasons. One major factor is the decline in attendance from 1968 to now. Other factors — for example, the secularization of America, wherein one in five citizens are unaffiliated with any religion — are also to blame.
Whatever (or whoever) is behind the decline, the fact remains: Giving is down. For 2013, projections for giving to religion are for it to remain flat or decline slightly. Several studies are projecting this.
Recently, I met with a client church 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 had better brace ourselves.
4 trends impacting church giving
The following are my observations, as taken from examining scores of studies and articles, and from talking personally to a multitude of donors around the country on behalf of churches. I believe these four trends are impacting us most.
1) The demographic remapping of America. Today, Caucasians make up 64 percent of the population. By 2045, minorities will represent 51 percent. Not only is the color of our nation (and thus, our churches) changing, so is the median age. The Silent Generation — those born before 1945 — are moving off the stage. This generation has contributed the vast majority of the dollars sustaining the church since World War II.
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.
As such, two of the most powerful church giving pools are changing. The church simply must figure out how to connect with younger generations, and how to get them to give.
2) Technology is changing the way we do everything. How many of you are reading this right now on a tablet, or even a smartphone? A recent study revealed that Millennials (age 18 to 32) are 62 percent 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’re 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 to match the current trends.
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’re uncertain if we’ll have jobs next week. We’re uncertain if our 401Ks will be worth anything so we can retire. Seniors face the uncertainty of whether or not they’ll outlive their money — funds that gain 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. 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 show that younger generations of donors give to less charitable causes than their parents and grandparents. 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, evidence 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’s time to stop rearranging the chairs on the Titanic! Most churches act as if nothing has changed. They’re oblivious to what’s right in front of them. This “ostrich” approach threatens any reversal in the decline in giving. The result is that we’ll have far less money to do missions and ministry. At a time when our message is needed more than ever, we’ll 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. You can’t do much about the church across town, but you can begin to take action to keep your own ship afloat.
What steps are you taking to reverse the decline in giving at your church?
Mark Brooks is founder and president of The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions.