Double Helix Double Helix News Series

Strong link found between worship attendance and religious giving

(RNS) — The more frequently a household attends worship services, the more likely its members donate to religious institutions, and give generously, new research shows.

“Most strikingly, those attending religious services once a month or more make an average annual religious contribution of $1,848, while those attending religious services less than once a month donate $111,” says the report from Giving USA.

The report, released Tuesday (Oct. 24), draws on data from the University of Michigan’s Philanthropy Panel Study.

“Giving to religion,” as defined by the Chicago-based Giving USA Foundation, includes contributions to congregations, religious media, denominations and mission organizations. It does not include faith-related institutions such as the Salvation Army, the University of Notre Dame, global relief organization World Vision, Catholic hospitals or Jewish foundations.

Overall, giving to religious causes amounted to close to a third of all charitable giving in 2016, Giving USA says. Religious institutions received $122.94 billion that year, or 32 percent of charitable donations. That figure is more than double the amount received by educational institutions, the next highest sector within nonprofits, which garnered $59.77 billion.

David King, director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University, said it’s notable that religious giving has remained at about a third of charitable giving in recent years “despite trends that we’ve seen around declining religious affiliation and religious involvement.”

Researchers from the university found that almost one-tenth of households that never attend religious services give to religious institutions, but in far lower amounts — $67 annually on average.

Households that attend religious services every week or more are 28 times more likely to give to religious causes than those that never attend, researchers found.

“(Y)ounger generations do give to religion, and do so at a rate that is similar to earlier generations,” said Rick Dunham, a board member of Giving USA Foundation and president of a fundraising company that focuses on faith-based nonprofits. “It is reasonable to expect that as younger generations mature, they will be similarly engaged in charitable giving as older generations are.”

Among donors to religious causes that Giving USA tracks, Protestants give more to those causes ($2,809) than Jews ($2,291), Catholics ($1,372) or those of other affiliations ($1,979).

African-Americans give a greater percentage of their donations to religion than other groups – 74 percent, compared with 66 percent among Hispanics and 58 percent among whites.

Age is also viewed as a factor in giving. Among donors to religious causes, annual average giving reaches its peak between ages 40 and 64 ($2,505) – which is higher than donors under age 40 ($1,892), and those over 65 ($2,338).

Religious giving also increases with income as well as with educational attainment.

While 21 percent of heads of household without a high school degree gave to a religious institution, 49 percent with education beyond a bachelor’s degree gave to religious causes. Researchers attribute that change in part to connections between education and income.

A DNA strand next to the title of the series.

These stories are part of a series on science and religion, brought to you with support from the John Templeton Foundation. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. (RNS logo, John Templeton Foundation logo}

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


Click here to post a comment

  • In other words, if you like Kool-Aid, you probably drink lots of it.

    Now imagine if all that money went toward legitimate charity instead of buying gold chalices or paying pederasts.

  • Hard to believe that people give money to people who deny Christ by saying that it doesn’t matter what religion you are. If a priest, minister, bishop says that all religions lead to God, walk out and don’t look back. Jesus Christ said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” Our Lord could not be more clear about this point. Jesus Christ established the Holy Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, not a fundraising social justice organization.

  • “Jesus Christ said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.””

    Maybe the man you call Jesus Christ did, and maybe he didn’t. We don’t know. We know that someone wrote something that is presented in those words. Just because words exist doesn’t mean the ideas they detail are true.

    You chose to believe a particular religious concept, others chose different ones. Unless you are committed to one of them they all seem pretty much as irrational as each other.

    “Jesus Christ established the Holy Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, not a fundraising social justice organization”

    No he didn’t. The books claim that he wanted everyone to love one another, to help those in difficulty irrespective of their beliefs and status, to embrace poverty, to have no savings, property or regular source of income, to pray in secret, to “judge not” and to do to others that which they would like done to them (which is arrogant and easy). He was not a fan of organised or corporate religion.

    Jesus, as reported, was big, very big, on social justice – not without reason has the storyjesus been described as a communist.

  • What the article doesn’t mention is that while the religious give more to religious charities, they also give more to secular charities. The religious simply give more all around.

  • Religious people give more money to religion? But not just any religion.

    We have money to an evangelical hunger organization. I didn’t want to, but my good hearted husband had heard good things about them from a co-worker, and they checked out on charity navigator. We told them we didn’t want an acknowledgement, nor more appeals for money. We got something like six more appeals from them alone within a month. Not to mention, they had sold our names to about 20 more, so we got a flood of appeals.

    We wrote them an SAid please, no more. Within a month, we got another half dozen appeals, including some very expensive to produce appeals.

    Even my good hearted husband was appalled. He agrees. No more money.

  • “Who Really Cares” by Arthur C. Brooks:

    According to his research, religious people were 10 points more likely to give to secular charities than non-religious people, and the value of the average donation was 14% higher. Religious people were also 21 points more likely to volunteer for purely secular non-political causes.

  • “Strong link found between worship attendance and religious giving”

    In other news, a strong link has been found between cars and car wrecks.