Five Giving Trends in Today’s Church

Much about church giving is changing. Worship attendance, conversions, and baptisms are often the most scrutinized metrics, but giving trends are close behind. Below are five macro trends that are affecting most churches in the United States.

Trend 1: Millennials will have less giving potential than their parents. Unless an unexpected economic shift occurs, Millennials will continue to be poorer than their parents. Numerous reasons are the cause. Tuition at colleges has tripled since 1980, even after adjusting for inflation. Household income has risen four times more quickly with the older generations than with Millennials. The federal government now spends almost $7 on programs for seniors for every $1 spent per capita on programs for children. The young poor are getting poorer. The chart below demonstrates that poverty was largely among the older generation prior to the 1970s. Now poverty is largely among the younger generation. The Millennials will make less—perhaps much less—than previous generations, which means their giving capacity as a whole will be less.

Trend 2: Giving will be more concentrated at the largest churches. The biggest 10% of churches hold about 50% of all monies given to congregations, and this concentration is intensifying as more and more people are going to larger churches. In the future, larger churches will continue to garner more of the total resources given to churches. Many will bemoan, if not outright condemn, this trend. I understand the sentiment. However, I believe any church—large or small—can be a resource giant.

Trend 3: Independent funding mechanisms will increase in popularity. The ubiquity of the Internet creates a climate in which anyone can be connected to everyone. Smart phones make this connectivity mobile. Churches no longer need a denomination to create a system of connectivity for funding ministries and missions. Are there reasons a church should stay with a denomination for funding missions or other ministries? Yes, but needing a system of connectivity is no longer one of them.

The problem is many leaders within denominations have continued to champion “the system” of funding even though churches don’t need it any more. At the same time, denominational loyalties are in decline, which exacerbates the declines in giving to denominational work. Additionally, operating costs are increasing in local congregations—it’s more expensive to run a church than it used to be. The result of these factors converging is the rise of independent funding mechanisms. I can more easily support my friend serving in Rwanda than I can my denomination, and I have more of a personal connection to her anyway. I like her Facebook page, not my denomination’s Facebook page (actually, my denomination doesn’t even have one!). I get personal emails from her, not leaders in my denomination.

Trend 4: Giving patterns in churches are becoming less consistent. People are still giving, just not asconsistently to churches. In fact, churches are getting less of total charitable giving. Overall, charitable giving is on the rise in the United States, but churches are receiving a smaller portion. In 1987, religious organizations received 53% of all charitable donations. In 2014, religious organizations received only 32% of all charitable giving, a 30-year dramatic downward slide.

Trend 5: Digital giving is the future. Mobile devices now account for over half of all Internet traffic. Digital giving is the future. And to some degree, it’s a discipleship issue. The spiritual discipline of giving will become completely digital in the future. Gifts of pure gold became coinage. Coinage became paper money. Paper money became checks. Checks are already going digital, especially with younger generation. Digital giving tools help people with the spiritual discipline of giving.

Many pastors feel a shift occurring in their churches. Their intuitions tell them the future of church giving will be different. Perhaps your instinct leads you to believe giving patterns are changing in your church. Most likely, your instincts are correct. These five macro trends, in particular, are affecting many churches and will continue to do so in the future.

This post is an excerpt from a research article I wrote for Church Answers. It’s part of a premier coaching ministry with Thom Rainer.

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Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as president of Rainer Research. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. He also serves as senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church Cookeville, TN. Sam is the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is a theological review editor at CrossBooks and regular contributor to Church Executive magazine. He has written dozens of articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina and an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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