- (Photo: AP Images / Paul Vernon)
Americans have cut back on donations and tithing to churches as the economic downtown tests generosity levels of donors, a new study found.
The latest study released Tuesday by Barna Research shows three out of 10 Americans are reducing their giving to churches, virtually unchanged from figures in January of last year when non-giving was at an all-time high since the economic crisis.
Thirty percent of respondents to the April survey said they reduced their giving to a church or religious center within the past three months, compared to 29 percent in January 2010. In the immediate aftermath of the economic crisis in November 2008, only 20 percent said they had cut back giving to a church or religious center.
Regarding contributions to non-profits other than churches, the percentage of Americans who reduced donations dropped 9 percentage points from 48 percent in January 2010.
Those who were most likely to reduce donations to churches were Baby Boomers, lower income households, Northeastern residents, and those who identify themselves as Christians but are only moderately involved with a church, according to the study.
About a quarter of Americans, 24 percent, shut their wallets altogether and stopped all giving to churches. Another 17 percent have reduced their giving by half.
"The economic downturn influenced donations later than it affected other aspects of our spending," David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, commented on the study.
"Once it kicked in, though, donors have cut back significantly in their giving to churches and nonprofits. Now, even as the economy shows some signs of improvement, donors are still reluctant to return to their previous levels of generosity. They may be less shell-shocked than 15 months ago, but they are still cautious," he observed.
Many of the adults surveyed had a dim outlook on the economy with three-quarters of Americans now believing the economy will take at least two years or more to recover. Nearly half of adults (47 percent) said they expect the economy to take three more years to recover.
The Barna study also reported that fewer Americans are tithing amid the tough economic times.
Only four percent of Americans give 10 percent of their income to churches, a drop from last year's rate of seven percent. The national tithing rate has typically been five to seven percent of Americans over the past decade.
"Most Americans think of their giving as secondary to their survival," said Kinnaman. "Yet, from a biblical perspective, generosity should be part of Christians' fundamental response to the downturn."
An April survey by the National Association of Evangelicals found that a majority of its leadership doesn't think tithing is required by the Bible.
Among the NAE board of directors, 58 percent said they did not think a 10-percent tithing of income to the church is mandated by the Bible compared to 42 percent who believed tithing was a duty of believers.
Despite differing on the biblical teaching on tithing, the overwhelming majority of NAE leaders, 95 percent, said they give at least 10 percent. Many noted in their response that although tithing is an Old Testament legal model, New Testament Christians should give out of generosity.
The Barna study, conducted in April, was based on a random sample of 618 American adults. The tithing figures are from a separate OmniPollSM tracking study conducted among 1,608 adults in January and February.