Study: Few Born Agains Tithe to Churches

Only 9 percent of all born again adults gave 10 percent of their income to churches and charitable groups, a new survey revealed.

While the practice of tithing and whether it is a biblical responsibility is still debated today, The Barna Group found that very few Americans, including Christians, give tithe.

Overall, only 5 percent of U.S. adults tithed in 2007, the survey released Monday showed. Since 2000, the proportion of adults who tithed has remained in the 5 percent to 7 percent range.

The most generous group was the evangelicals, with 24 percent having tithed last year. Other groups who were more likely to give at least 10 percent of their income include conservatives (12 percent); people who had prayed, read the Bible and attended a church service during the past week (12 percent); charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (11 percent); and registered Republicans (10 percent).

Evangelical Christians gave high donations with 83 percent contributing at least $1000 to churches and non-profit entities in 2007. Among all adults, only 34 percent gave away $1000 or more that year.

Regarding donations only to religious centers – church, synagogue or other place of worship – 25 percent of all adults contributed at least $1000. Ninety-six percent of evangelicals gave money to a church and 81 percent of them donated at least $1000.

Despite the generous contributions to churches by evangelicals, an earlier study released by Ellison Research last month revealed that only a minority of evangelicals believe it is a sin to not tithe 10 percent of their income. Over four out of 10 evangelicals believe it is a sin not to tithe, but other studies show relatively few evangelicals actually do so.

The March study also showed that more Protestants than Roman Catholics considered the failure to tithe a sin. According to this week's Barna study, Protestants were more likely to tithe compared to Catholics (8 percent vs. 2 percent of Catholics) in 2007.

Donations by the aggregate born again community (both evangelicals and on-evangelical born again adults) reached the highest level this decade. The mean donation to non-profits and churches was $1971. But the new study was quick to note that the percentage of born again adults who gave any money to churches dropped to 76 percent – its lowest level this decade.

"Born again adults remain the most generous givers in a country acknowledged to be the most generous on the planet," said George Barna, head of the research group. "But their donation decisions must be seen in the larger context of the changes occurring in a wide range of religious behaviors.

"With millions of people shifting their allegiance to different forms of church experience, and a more participatory society altering how people interact and serve others, many Christians are now giving their money to different types of organizations instead of a church," he continued. "They attend conventional churches less often. They are expanding their circle of Christian relationships beyond local church boundaries. And they are investing greater amounts of their time and money in service organizations that are not connected with a conventional church. That doesn't make such giving inappropriate or less significant, it's just a different way of addressing social needs."

Of all the money born agains have donated, the proportion given to the churches has dropped over the past three years. The proportion born again adults give to churches declined from 84 cents out of every donated dollar during the first five years of the decade to 76 cents.

"The choices being made by born again donors have huge implications for the non-profit sector," said Barna. "Realize that a majority of the money donated by individuals in the U.S. comes from the born again constituency. If this transition in the perceptions and giving behavior of born again adults continues to accelerate, the service functions of conventional churches will be redefined within the next eight to 10 years, and conventional churches will have to adopt new ways of assisting people in need."

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