While many Christian churches encourage tithing — giving 10% of one's income to the church — as a biblical commandment, only a minority of pastors subscribe to that traditional view, data from a new Barna study show.
The data in Revisiting the Tithe & Offering, the latest release in Barna’s The State of
Generosity series published in partnership with Generis and Gloo, found that only a minority of Americans who identify as Christian give 10% of their income to the church in practice too.
Researchers surveyed 2,016 U.S. adults from Nov. 12-19, 2021, to arrive at the most recent conclusion showing no consensus among pastors on the practice that has been renounced by high-profile pastors such as televangelist Creflo Dollar in recent months.
While most pastors in the study don’t see giving outside the church as tithing, 70% said tithing doesn’t have to be strictly financial. And when it comes to how much financial giving would be an acceptable tithe, only 33% are in favor of the traditional 10%.
Another 21% of pastors didn’t recommend any particular share of income that Christians should give, but suggested it should be “enough to be considered sacrificial.” A nearly similar share of pastors, 20%, said Christians should give as much as they are willing.
The study also revealed that the concept of tithing was also not well understood by U.S. adults or even Christians in particular.
Only about two in five U.S. adults in the study said they were familiar with the term “tithe” and could provide a definition. A similar share said they were familiar with the term, while 22% said although they were familiar with the concept they couldn’t provide a definition.
Among Christians, in general, less than half could say definitely what the tithe is. More than half of practicing Christians, 59%, had a stronger awareness of the tithe and what it means, while 99% of pastors understood the traditional concept.
The study further noted that only 21% of Christians were found to give 10% of their income to their local church while 25% didn’t give to their church at all. Among practicing Christians, the study found that 42% gave at least the traditional 10% to their church.
“Church leaders and Christians may wonder whether it matters if the tithe falls out of the mainstream. After all, church giving should not be reduced to an equation, and heartfelt, reverent generosity can be accomplished with or without deep knowledge of the tithe,” Barna noted. “Still, as a fundamental, scriptural idea of Christian stewardship becomes a hazy concept, it appropriately raises questions — about how modern ministries approach funding and resources, and, more importantly, about the broader culture of generosity being nurtured among Christians.”
A recent study showed that only an estimated 13% of Evangelicals engage in traditional tithing and half give less than 1% of their income annually. The study, "The Generosity Factor: Evangelicals and Giving," from Grey Matter Research and Infinity Concepts, a brand communication agency, shows that the average Evangelical gave $1,923 to the church and $622 to charity over the past 12 months, for a total of $2,545 in giving. At the median mark, however, Evangelicals only gave $340 to the church and $50 to charity, for a total of $390.
The study found that people who were more engaged with their church and faith tended to give more to their church, and vice versa.
In July, controversial televangelist Creflo Dollar, one of America's most flamboyant proponents of the prosperity gospel, renounced tithing and all his previous teachings on the subject as "not correct."
He also urged his followers to "throw away every book, every tape and every video I
ever did on the subject of tithing" but added that he will not apologize for his error.
In a sermon billed as "The Great Misunderstanding," the founder and senior pastor of
the nearly 30,000-member World Changers Church International headquartered in
College Park, Georgia, said he was aware that his declaration would cause him to
lose friends and invitations to speak at other churches.
In an op-ed for The Gospel Coalition in 2017, Thomas Schreiner, the James
Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament interpretation and associate dean
for Scripture and interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in
Louisville, Kentucky, outlined several reasons why tithing is not a requirement for
"The commands stipulated in the Mosaic covenant are no longer in force for
believers. Some appeal to the division between the civil, ceremonial, and moral law
to support tithing. Yet these divisions, I would observe, are not the basis Paul uses
when addressing how the law applies to us today,” Schreiner explained in part.
“And even if we use these distinctions, tithing is clearly not part of the moral law.
It's true the moral norms of the Old Testament are still in force today, and we
discern them from the law of Christ in the New Testament, but tithing is not among