U.S. Churches Urged to Confront Lukewarm Giving

The level of activity in U.S. churches when it comes to monetary giving and displaying care for others in need is "lukewarm," authors of a new report state.

And being lukewarm can lead to churches being "spit out" of Jesus' mouth, they warn.

"The State of Church Giving through 2006: Global Triage, MDG 4, and Unreached People Groups," released Wednesday, evaluated members' contributions to churches from 1968 through 2006 and the allocation of church funds to overseas mission work and urgent global needs.

A survey of a group of 34 Protestant denominations found that, on average, two cents of each dollar donated to their affiliated congregations in 2006 funded international missions through the denominations – a level of support for overseas missions that was lower than that in the 1920s.

The report also showed that the portion of income members contributed to their church decreased from 3.11 percent in 1968 to 2.55 percent in 2006, a decline of 18 percent from the 1968 base.

Furthermore, the total portion of per capita income given to churches in 2006 was lower than in the worst year of the Great Depression.

If members contributed only a few more cents per day, the report notes, churches in the U.S. could engage every "unreached" people group and stop up to two-thirds of global under-five child deaths.

Only $26 a year per evangelical Christian is required to fund over $544 million in efforts toward global evangelization, the report estimates. The estimated cost to stop global deaths of children under five years old is $239 per evangelical Christian, or $5 billion in total.

Reducing child mortality is the fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) among eight goals that the United Nations member states agreed to achieve by the year 2015.

Analyzing the potential impact on the world's needs if church giving increased, authors Dr. John Ronsvalle and his wife, Sylvia, put forward the giving potential of church members if they gave 10 percent of their income. The result would have been an additional $170 billion available for the work of the church in 2006, according to the report. If 60 percent of the additional giving was allocated to "global word and deed need," there would have been an additional $102 billion available – an amount the authors say is "substantially greater" than estimates of the most urgent global word and deed need costs.

Making the Gospel accessible to every people group and alleviating the physical suffering of people around the globe are increasingly attainable goals, the authors point out. But the "lukewarmness" of the church in the United States, and not a lack of resources or methods, is posing serious consequences.

"The level of activity currently going on through the church in the U.S. prevents it from being termed 'cold.' However, the lack of commitment to solving the tasks before the church prevent it from being labeled as 'hot' in its practice," according to the report.

Although there are individuals and organizations "hotly" pursuing the Great Commission and the biblical mandate to help the poor, present efforts are not sufficient and only a mobilization of the entire body of Christ would be able to accomplish the goal, the authors insist.

But already, the church in the United States may be feeling what the authors believe are "consequences as a result of its current tepid behavior," including irrelevancy and negative views toward the church among Americans.

"If ... the church in the U.S., confronted with its lukewarmness, should opt to “be earnest and repent”, then the church will reflect a change of heart as evident in increased concern for others, displayed through increased church member giving for the purpose of helping others who are in desperate need," the authors say.

The report proposes a triage remedy, urging churches to prioritize in approaching global needs.

Clarifying that the focus isn't on whether unreached people groups should take precedence over evangelism with established accessibility to the Gospel, the authors explain that triage is "a matter of how to mobilize uninvolved church members to complete a task, rather than a determination that one category is more important than the other."

Some of the goals the authors suggest for U.S. churches include engaging all unreached people groups, recovering momentum for the fourth MDG, and recovering a focus on basics by spending less time on trying to influence government and more time on contributing to the global word and deed need.

The State of Church Giving through 2006: Global Triage, MDG 4, and Unreached People Groups, published by Empty Tomb, Inc., is available for purchase at emptytomb.org.