An increasing share of American Protestant churchgoers believe that financial prosperity is part of God's plan for them and that giving more money to their church and charities will result in blessings from God, according to a recent study by Lifeway Research.
The study, conducted from Sept. 19-29, 2022, and released this week, found that 52% of churchgoers say their church teaches that God will bless them if they donate more, up from 38% in 2017.
Additionally, 76% believe God wants them to prosper financially, an increase from 69% in 2017. The belief that they must do something for God to receive material blessings has also risen to 45% from 26%.
"In the last five years, far more churchgoers are reflecting prosperity gospel teachings, including the heretical belief that material blessings are earned from God," Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said, noting that the financial struggles due to inflation and the pandemic might have contributed to this shift in beliefs.
The prosperity gospel, or the "Word of Faith Movement," teaches that believers can use God for material gain, a belief that contrasts with traditional Christian teachings.
This belief is particularly prevalent among younger and less educated churchgoers, with 81% of those aged 18-34 and 85% of those aged 35-49 saying God wants them to prosper financially.
The online survey included 1,002 American Protestant churchgoers and provided 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.3%. Comparisons were made to a similar survey conducted by Lifeway Research in August 2017.
Different religious settings show variations in these beliefs. Methodist (93%) and Restorationist movement (88%) churchgoers are more likely to believe God wants them to prosper financially. Those with Evangelical beliefs are more likely to agree (80% v. 74%) than those without.
"Younger churchgoers — those 18-34 (63%) and 35-49 (66%) — are more likely than older churchgoers to affirm their church teaches that if they give more money to the church and charities, God will bless them," McConnell added.
African American churchgoers are most likely to say their church teaches that giving more money will result in blessings (71%). Those who attend worship services one to three times a month are more likely to agree than those who attend at least four times a month (57% v. 49%).
Denominationally, Methodist (85%) and Restorationist movement (71%) churchgoers are among the most likely to agree that their church teaches God will bless them if they give more money.
The belief that one must do something for God to receive material blessings is most prevalent among younger churchgoers, with those aged 18-34 (65%) and 35-49 (58%) more likely to hold this belief. High school graduates or less (50%) or those with some college education (48%) are more likely to agree than those with a bachelor's degree (38%) or a graduate degree (30%).
Among regular church attendees, those who attend less often are more likely to say they must do something for God to receive material blessings (49% v. 42%). Methodist (85%) and Restorationist movement (68%) churchgoers are again the most likely to hold this belief.
Christian leaders warn against the focus on material wealth and its potential to become an idol.
The Bible teaches different types of prosperity, and material wealth may not be the most important in God's eyes. Prosperity teaching also contradicts traditional Christian beliefs about the role of suffering and the promise of eternal prosperity in Heaven.
"God's ideal for this world was perfection (Genesis 1:31). He created it perfect, desired that we enjoy perfect lives and perfect fellowship with Him, and intended that prosperity would be a way of life," states GotQuestions.com. "But sin corrupted that perfect plan, and now prosperity, health, and a trouble-free existence are impossible for many and fleeting for the rest (Romans 5:12; Genesis 3). God does offer to prosper us beyond explanation, but it may not come during our short earthly stay.
"For many, the full realization of God's restoration will be experienced only when we leave this world behind and enter His presence for eternity. Hebrews 11 lists dozens of faithful servants of the Lord who one might expect to have lived prosperously because of their faithfulness. Yet verses 39 and 40 say this: 'And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.' Every child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, will experience prosperity beyond our wildest imaginations for all of eternity (1 Corinthians 2:9). Until then, we walk by faith."