Donate to RNS

Whither philanthropy? Under-25 learn giving in church; church weaker: empty tomb book

empty tomb, inc.

Young people report most of their giving goes to “church, religious organizations,” while other data points to churches weakening, according to empty tomb’s new book, The State of Church Giving through 2018. What do these trends mean for the practice of philanthropy in the U.S.?

Young people learn philanthropy in religious settings, finds an analysis in the new empty tomb book, The State of Church Giving through 2018.

The new book also finds downward trends in church membership and giving in the U.S.

That poses the question: If young people learn to practice philanthropy in church, and churches are in downward trends, will philanthropy continue to thrive in the U.S.?

First, the empty tomb findings.

For the past 15 editions in the State of Church Giving series, empty tomb has analyzed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) charitable giving data.

Four categories are considered in the CE analysis: 1) charities and other organizations; 2) church, religious organizations; 3) educational institutions; and 4) gifts to “non-consumer-unit members” of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

It may not be a surprise that the Under-25 set gives a small portion of income to charity.

What may be a surprise is that those in this age group who give report that the vast majority of their donations go to “church, religious organizations.” In 2018, that number was 71%. The average for this Under-25 data set over the years of 2004 through 2018 was 80%. However, although still the largest category in 2018, the portion of income given to “church, religious organizations” by the Under-25 set declined as part of their total giving, from 93% in 2004 to 71% in 2018, a decline of 16% from the 2004 base of portion of Total Giving to church, religious organizations.

Whither philanthropy?

It is of interest to note that, in 2018, Americans self-reported that “church, religious organizations” received the highest portion of their donations in every age group, every income level, and every region of the U.S., according to the empty tomb analysis. This trend was observed in most other years as well.  This data suggests a relationship between philanthropy and religion.

Meanwhile, Pew surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019 found that less than half of Millennials (born 1981-1996) identified as Christian, with 40% identifying as “Unaffiliated.”

Further, Ryan Burge, associate professor at Eastern Illinois University, analyzed data from the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. He found a change in the previous pattern of youth leaving the church and starting to attend again later. For those born in 1970-1974, there was no increase in church attendance when they reached 36 to 45.  Increased attendance was reported among those born in 1975-1979, but numbers for those born in 1980-1984 actually posted a decline in church attendance when reaching 36-45.

In a development that may be related to the decrease in practice of religion, a 2019 report from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that since 2010, the number of households donating to charity declined, from 61.11% in 2010 to 53.09% in 2016, a decrease of 20 million households.

Without a vision …

Thom Rainer, founder of Church Answers and former president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention LifeWay Christian Resources, suggests that young people give to vision rather than institutions: “If a compelling vision is not clear, or if there are many competing visions and emphases, these younger adults may shift their giving elsewhere.”

Having studied these trends for three decades, empty tomb also developed Mission Match.  This project combines congregational initiative and a focused vision. Congregations decide to be part of the solution that ends, in Jesus’ name, 1.2 million under-five child deaths from treatable causes. The congregation chooses the delivery channel and project to support in one of 40 countries. Then the congregation applies for matching funds from Mission Match.

At this point, empty tomb is looking for 10 leader congregations to apply for matching funds.

In addition, empty tomb is also looking for one or more venture philanthropists to help roll out Mission Match on a major scale. The goal is to mobilize enough churches to stop these 1.2 million annual child deaths by the year 2025.

A side effect of churches loving these little neighbors in Jesus’ name may be increased interest on the part of young people in what the church is doing.

More information about Mission Match is available at

The State of Church Giving through 2018: What If Jesus Comes Back in 2025? (30th edition, Dec. 2020), is available at Wipf and Stock Publishers.

# # #

Reference Resources:

Members of the working press: A PDF excerpt presenting the empty tomb BLS CE analysis is available on request by contacting empty tomb by email or at (217) 356-9519.

Pew Research report on Millennial Religious Identification: “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace“; Pew Research Center, Religion and Public Life; 10/17/2019; p. 2, 7 of 10/17/2020 4:08 PM printout.

Ryan Burge research on Millennials’ pattern of religious affiliation: Ryan Burge, Assistant Professor, Eastern Illinois University, can be reached at (217) 581-5162.  The information in this release is from: Ryan Burge; “Guest Column: Young People Will Come Back to Church, Right?”; Barna; 10/21/2019; pp. 3, 4-5.

Lilly Family School of Philanthropy report on household charitable giving: Chelsea Jacquelin Clark, et al.; “Changes to the Giving Landscape”; Vanguard Charitable; 2019; p. 6.

Thom Rainer, president and CEO of, (615) 669-8201.  Article cited: Thom Rainer; “5 Reasons Your Church’s Giving May Have Dropped Significantly This Year”; Christian Post; 11/13/2019; 11/13/2019; p. 3 of 11/13/2019 8:17 AM printout.

Sylvia Ronsvalle
empty tomb, inc.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.

Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!