Changes in generosity represent challenge, opportunity for churches

MINNEAPOLIS (July 12, 2017) – In a groundbreaking study of generosity among Christians, Barna Group found significant gaps in understandings, expectations and practices within the U.S. Christian community.

The Generosity Gap, the report summarizing the study findings, revealed significant generosity-related misalignment between pastors and church attendees, between generations and between individuals’ personal beliefs and practices.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Nineteen in 20 Christians surveyed (96%) said generosity is important to them.
  • Just one in six Christians (16%) said they are most often generous to others through monetary support.
  • One-third of Christians surveyed (32 percent) most strongly associated generosity with service or volunteering, and 30 percent associated it with emotional or relational support. About one in five Christians (22 percent) connected it with giving money, 12 percent associated it with hospitality, and five percent said it was giving non-monetary gifts. When segmented by generations, Millennials were least likely to associate generosity with monetary giving (13 percent).
  • Just more than half of Christians surveyed (56 percent) said they gave less than $50 to church and charity last year. Eighty-four percent of Millennials reported that they gave less than $50 dollars, the highest percentage of all generational segments. Nearly four in five Millennials (78%) said they were satisfied with their level of giving.
  • While strong majorities of pastors and Christians agreed that generosity is always or often a response to Christ’s love, pastors were more likely to hold this belief (91 percent vs. 73 percent).
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of Christians surveyed agreed that it is okay for church members who volunteer extensively not to give financially; just nine percent of pastors surveyed agreed (and 85 percent disagree).

“Clearly, not everyone agrees on what, exactly, it means to be generous,” said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group. “Our research suggests that pastors and church leaders could benefit from better understanding congregants’ generosity attitudes, behaviors and motivations.” Commissioned by Thrivent Financial, the study also explored:

  • How people express generosity.
  • How financial goals impact giving habits.
  • Methods and invitations that strengthen giving.
  • Key motivators that influence where Christians financially give.

“Generosity is both a reflection of people’s heart and a reflection of their wisdom with money,” said Christopher Kopka, president of Thrivent Church Solutions Group. “Christians’ interest in generosity provides a strong base from which pastors and leaders can grow their congregants’ understanding and practice of generosity in both monetary and non-monetary ways.”

“Navigating generational differences is an especially urgent task for Christian leaders who are trying to create and sustain an inter-generational community,” said Kinnaman. “The challenge for pastors and church leaders is to create moments that invite extravagant generosity from people as they serve an extravagantly generous Lord.”

About The Generosity Gap Report

In 2016, Thrivent commissioned Barna Group to perform both qualitative and quantitative research to better understand Millennial's perspectives on, and practices of, generosity and how those differ from other generations.

This work culminated in a 43-question online survey from May 31 to June 14, 2016, to the Barna Group Pastor Panel. Some 606 pastors completed the survey. The sample error on the survey was +/- 4.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence rate.

The study also included an online survey from July 8-18 and from September 9- 19, 2016. Some 1,556 interested Christians—those who have reported that “my religious faith is very important in my life today” and who have attended church in the past year or more often—completed the survey. The sample error on this survey is +/- 2.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence rate. The responses were weighted by age, gender and region according to the Barna Omni Poll Spring 2016.

The Generosity Gap monograph summarizing survey findings is available at:

About Barna Group

Barna Group is a research firm dedicated to providing actionable insights on faith and culture, with a particular focus on the Christian church. In its 20-year history, Barna Group has conducted more than one million interviews in the course of hundreds of studies, and has become a go-to source for organizations that want to better understands a complex and changing world from a faith perspective. Learn more at


About Thrivent Financial

Thrivent Financial is a not-for-profit membership organization that helps Christians be wise with money and live generously. As a membership organization, it offers its more than 2 million member-owners a broad range of products, services and guidance from financial representatives nationwide. For more than a century it has helped members make wise money choices that reflect their values while providing them opportunities to demonstrate their generosity where they live, work and worship. To learn more, visit You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.


Leave a Comment