Recorded, our new narrative podcast, begins with a two-part miniseries called “Remembering 9/11.”

×

The Story

A new survey finds that fewer Americans give to charity, including to churches and religious organizations.

The Background

Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy recently released a study on charitable giving in the United States. The study is based on data collected in 2019 about charitable giving in 2018.

According to the report, slightly less than half of U.S. households (49.6 percent) gave to a charity in 2018. The average amount donated that year was $2,581, and the median amount per household was $850. To put those numbers in context, the U.S. median household income was $63,179 in 2018, so the median household giving to charity was 1.3 percent of income. During ​​the Great Depression, Americans gave an average of 3.3 percent of income to charity.

Households with higher income levels gave at higher rates to charity. Over seven of ten households with income levels of $100,000 or more, over five of ten households with income levels between $50,001 and $99,999, and over one-third of households with income levels of $50,000 or less gave to charity.

Donor households with higher income levels also gave higher average and median gift amounts to charity. Among those that gave, the average gift from households with income levels of $100,000 or more was nearly twice that from households with income levels between $50,001 and $99,999. Among those that gave, the median gift amount from households with income levels of $100,000 or more was more than three times that from households with income levels of $50,000 or less

The area of the country that had the highest percentage of givers (56.4 percent) was the North East (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont). The area of the country that had the lowest percentage of givers (43.8 percent) was the West South Central (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas). Though the West South Central region households gave at the lowest rate, those that did give donated the most on average ($3,307) among the geographic regions.

Religious organizations received the bulk of donors’ giving—an average of 60 percent for all Americans and 73 percent of religious donors. On average, for all donors, the remainder of the giving is distributed as follows: about 10 percent goes directly to needs-based groups, 9 percent to combined-purpose organizations, 5 percent to education, 4 percent to health, and 11 percent to other charities.

Overall, about one in three (29 percent) of all U.S. households gave to religious organizations in 2018. The average giving amount to religious organizations per U.S. donor household was $2,656, and the median giving amount to religious organizations was $1,000.

Households headed by older individuals generally gave at higher rates to religious organizations. The giving rate to religious organizations of households headed by an individual 65 or older was 2.9 times more that of households headed by an individual 40 or younger. Older individuals not only gave higher rates to religious organizations, but also donated more on average. On average, donor households headed by an individual 41 to 64 years old gave $375 less to religious organizations than did donor households headed by an individual 65 or older.

Households with higher income levels gave at higher rates to religious organizations. Households with income levels between $50,001 and $99,999 gave at a lower rate to religious organizations (by 8.9 percentage points) than did those with income levels of $100,000 or more. Households with income levels of $50,000 or less gave at a lower rate (by 12.5 percentage points) than did households with income levels between $50,001 and $99,999.

The West North Central (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) was the only region with a giving rate to religious organizations above 35 percent. The area of the country that had the lowest giving rate to religious organizations (21.2 percent) was the North East (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont).

Households in the North East region gave at both the lowest rate and the lowest average amounts to religious organizations; households in the Pacific region (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington) gave the second-lowest rate but the second-largest average gift ($3,238) to religious organizations. The average gift to religious organizations from donor households in the Mountain region (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming) was over twice that of donor households from the North East region ($3,355, compared to $1,168).

Why It Matters

Based on the average level of giving, it’s amazing that church and religious organizations are able to remain sufficiently funded.

In 2018, there were 127.59 million households in the U.S., of which 37 million gave to religious organizations. With an average giving to religious groups of $1,945, that would provide roughly $72 billion for all religious organizations. While that may sound like a lot of money, there are roughly 380,000 ​religious congregations. If the money was divided up only among Christian congregations (leaving nothing for Jewish, Muslims, Mormons, etc.), they would each receive $189,473 each per year. That would not be enough to cover church budgets from a decade earlier, much less in 2018.

Based on the average level of giving, it’s amazing that church and religious organizations are able to remain sufficiently funded.

In 2009, a survey of 2,200 churches from around the country found that churches with less than 200 in weekly worship attendance had an average budget of $219,370 with a median of $173,370. For those with 200–499 worshipers, an average budget of $675,290 and a median of $628,720 was reported. If we adjust those numbers for inflation, in 2018 the average “small church” budget would be $256,763 and a median would be $202,922. The “large church” budget would be $790,400 and median would be $735,891.

Whether we should tithe 10 percent of our income is debatable (see “The Bible Commands Christians to Tithe” and “7 Reasons Christians Are Not Required to Tithe”). (Since only 3 to 5 percent of Americans who give to their local church do so through regular tithing, we can assume it’s not popular.) Nevertheless, Christians are commanded to give generously (1 John 3:16–18; Acts 20:35; Heb. 13:16; etc.). What percentage would be considered generous?

The median household income (i.e., combined gross income of all members of a household) in the U.S. is $62,843. If every Christian household gave as much of its income today as the average American did during the Great Depression (3.3 percent), the median giving would be $2,073—an increase of 107 percent. If Christians gave half a tithe (5 percent of their income), the median giving would be $3,142—an increase of 204 percent.

Obviously, the Lord has provided financially, since the majority of American churches manage to survive. Studies have also shown that ​religiously conservative churchgoers, especially conservative evangelicals, tend to be the most generous group in the United States. But even the giving of this group is at historic lows. And when we consider the proportion of giving compared to income, the total giving is abysmal. Christians could have an even greater effect by being only slightly more generous.

Podcasts

LOAD MORE
Loading