Are Christians more generous?
The Bible teaches us that giving is an act of worship, but as we all strive to live by Jesus’ teaching about generosity, we may find that variances among Christian giving – even when and how much to give – do exist.
Instead of viewing these variances as mere preferences, however, we set out to discover why and asked David Kinnaman for his perspective. You may know David as the author of “Good Faith,” “You Lost Me” and “unChristian.” He’s also the president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services.
Since 1995, David has directed interviews with nearly one million individuals and overseen hundreds of U.S. and global research studies. We asked David to unpack the results of one recent study to help us consider the ways we could help our ministry members understand the giving habits of our members. We hope his blog will offer ministries ways to explore topics like tithing, charitable giving and contribute to stronger, more engaged membership in every ministry.
Commissioned by Thrivent Financial, the Barna research team designed a study to assess Christians’ perceptions and habits of generosity. Among our findings, reported in The Generosity Gap, is confirmation of something that should come as no surprise: motivations matter.
When asked to identify their ultimate financial goal for life, half of Christians in the study think of others, not themselves, first; we call these Christians “Givers,” and they make up approximately half of our study. On the other hand, “Keepers,” about one-third—35 percent—of Christians, are self-focused in their priorities.
Not surprisingly, Givers are motivated by “giving” goals:
- Provide for their families (43 percent)
- Give charitably (23 percent)
- Serve God with their money (20 percent)
- Leave a legacy for others (14 percent)
In contrast, Keepers are motivated by “keeping” goals:
- Support the lifestyle they want (42 percent)
- Be content (37 percent)
- Be debt-free (16 percent)
- Earn enough to show how hard they work (5 percent)
These “soul motivations” make significant differences when it comes to Christians’ behaviors, beliefs and attitudes
For example, regular church attendance strongly correlates with giving goals. Nearly six in 10 Christians who attended a worship service within the past week are Givers (57 percent), compared to 45 percent of Christians who did not. And only weekly (not just occasional) church involvement appears to make a significant impact.
With regard to religious beliefs, Christians who align with traditional orthodoxy are more likely to be Givers. (Or it may be that Givers are more likely to profess orthodox beliefs; it’s unclear whether financial goals or religious beliefs are causal.) Givers also are more likely to say their faith is very important in their life and profess they sense God actively involved in their day-to-day lives.
July 2016, n=1,359 U.S. interested Christians.
In simplest terms, Christians with “giving” goals give more, while those with “keeping” goals give less. The data bears this out:
- One in three Givers says they donated $500 or more last year to their church or other nonprofits compared to about one in five Keepers.
- Givers are nearly twice as likely as Keepers to report donating $2,500 or more. Givers are more likely than Keepers to report setting their regular giving at 10 percent or more of their income—by a ratio of nearly two-to-one.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the story of Solomon that motivations matter. When God offered to grant Solomon anything he asked for, the king didn’t ask for wealth, riches or fame but for wisdom to govern his people well. God said to him, “Because your greatest desire is to help your people . . . I will also give you wealth, riches, and fame such as no other king has had before you or will ever have in the future” (2 Chron. 1:11–12, NLT). Solomon’s ultimate motivation was others-centered, not self-centered—much like the Givers in The Generosity Gap study.
That motivations are of ultimate importance is no surprise. Why, then, do we sometimes make them of secondary importance when it comes to generosity? So often we focus our efforts on cultivating generous habits rather than on making generous disciples. Of course, the former is a vitally significant part of the accomplishing the latter; people are less likely to grow spiritually without concrete disciplines like practicing generosity. But the practices themselves are not the point. The point is who we become under the influence of our habits. When focus strays to the discipline itself for its own sake, giving can feel cerebral, dry and lacking passion. But when transformation is the target, generous habits are rightly understood as tools to shape Christlikeness in us.
We invite you to learn more about “The Generosity Gap” by visiting Barna. Please subscribe to this blog to receive upcoming discussions about faith, finances and membership, too.
About the Author:
David Kinnaman is the author of the bestselling books Good Faith, You Lost Me and unChristian. He is president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services. Since 1995, David has directed interviews with nearly one million individuals and overseen hundreds of U.S. and global research studies. He and his wife live in California with their three children.