A new report updating church giving and membership data through 2012 observes that Christian seminaries and intellectuals have not engaged five cultural realities. As a result, according to the report, an estimated 1.9 million preventable global child deaths will occur in 2015. Further, church members in the U.S. not being effectively challenged to mobilize giving on behalf of global need may be a major cause of negative giving and membership trends.
The 24th edition in the series, The State of Church Giving through 2012: What Are Christian Seminaries and Intellectuals Thinking — Or Are They?, was released October 15, 2014, by empty tomb, inc.
What happened to per member giving to churches from 2011 to 2012?
Percent of income: Down, reaching in 2012 its lowest level in the 1968-2012 period.
Dollars: Down in inflation-adjusted dollars even though up in current dollars.
What happened to church membership as a percent of U.S. population?
A set of 35 Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church represented 45% of the U.S. population in 1968 and 35% in 2012.
How do Christian seminaries and intellectuals factor into these trends?
The new book outlines five realities, missed by seminaries and intellectuals, impacting the giving and membership trends: 1. The potential of church members to fund a positive agenda for affluence. 2. Pastors are preaching to congregations filled not with the poor, but rather the “rich.” 3. Money is a spiritual power. 4. Bigness has produced an illusion of powerlessness. 5. Seminaries and intellectuals need to lead.
The book states: "Today, there needs to be a categorical shift in the way the church in the U.S. understands money. Christian seminaries and Christian intellectuals in other settings are the logical leaders to foster this new direction. However, to date, neither has done so."
Also, "If Christian seminaries and intellectuals remain out of touch with reality—in this case, the reality of potential increased giving for missions, a potential that exists as a function of God’s will to love a hurting world in Jesus’ name—it will be difficult for church leaders to understand and share that vision with their constituent individual Christians."
The study's authors, John and Sylvia Ronsvalle, suggest what’s needed is not tweaking stewardship courses, but rethinking all aspects of seminaries' disciplines. Seminary thinkers have a broad array of tools at their disposal to disseminate intellectual insights to their students, as well as to the active pastorate, and churched and unchurched laity.
According to the Ronsvalles, the church pays to set aside seminary faculty largely for two purposes: 1) to train pastoral practitioners; and 2) to think through all facets of the seminary curriculum as it relates to such major cultural phenomena as church giving potential and global needs in this age of affluence. If seminaries are not thinking through these issues, how well can seminaries train practitioners, and is the church getting its money’s worth?
Is increased giving even possible?
A comparison between native-born church members and foreign-born people living in the U.S. found that if, in 2012, native-born church members had given at the level of remittances actually sent by foreign-born people living in the U.S., there could have been an additional $397 billion going through church channels for global needs.
Could increased giving make a difference?
Two triage needs are considered in the new book. An estimated $5 billion more annually, to close the gap between the Millennium Development Goal 4 level and the actual rate of child deaths, could help prevent 1.9 million child deaths in 2015. Providing unengaged unreached people groups with enough information to make a choice about believing in Jesus Christ was estimated at $200 million more annually.
Does media reporting of charitable giving accurately reflect Americans' giving trends?
In Associated Press and Reuters articles, the first percent change in giving, from the previous year, has not been adjusted for changes in population and the economy. Result: Seven of 11 AP articles, 2002 through 2014, reported increases, when giving, adjusted for population and economy changes, actually decreased.
How does giving to religious causes compare to other causes?
The book's updated analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 Consumer Expenditure Survey data, including by income, age, and region of residence, found Americans directed 72% of their giving to "church, religious organizations” in 2012, compared to, primarily, 23% to “charities and other organizations,” and 4% to “educational institutions."
Other analyses in the new book include comparing mainline and evangelical giving patterns, an overview of 11 denominations’ giving for 1921-2012, future trends in giving and membership, and an analysis of religious building trends.
The State of Church Giving through 2012 (2014 edition, 210 pages) is available through booksellers, or directly from emptytomb.org/publications.