There are about 10 million tithing Christians in America who give an estimated $50,000,000,000 annually to their churches and other charitable causes. That’s $50 billion!
Arthur Sido at The Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia alerted me to this study, which was originally reported on Christianity Today, and he asks how churches spend this money. He says this:
This gets back to the broader of issue of our love and indeed worship of money in the church, an idolatry that is a near perfect reflection of the broader American cultural obsession with money. I absolutely affirm that we have a serious problem with how money and the church relate but I don’t think it is the same problem we hear about so often. We don’t so much have a giving problem in the church, what we really have is a spending problem. Where is our spending as the church focused? Is it outward or inward and which is more Biblical?
The New Testament church was outward focusing in….
- Caring for the needy, such as widows among the church.
- Concerned for the welfare of Christians in other locations that were suffering.
- Supporting the evangelistic work of apostles/missionaries/evangelists who were traveling and preaching the Gospel.
The New Testament church was not concerned with…
- Mortgages, interest payments, building projects, utilities.
- Salaries for religious employees.
- Material and curriculum for Sunday school.
- Supporting the hierarchy of religious organizations like denominations and seminaries.
That is right on target! (Go read the rest of the article here: Are We Outward Focused or Inward Focused? Follow The Checkbook To Find Out)
Tithing and Money
I have written similar ideas before about how the church spends money it receives from tithing, and what could be done with this money instead (e.g., How the Church Can Solve the World Water Crisis, Liquidating our Property, and Money, Missions, and Ministry.
What if the churches around the country took JUST ONE TENTH of the tithing money they bring in in tithes every year, and put it toward rescuing young girls caught in human trafficking? If we tithed on our tithing income, we could give $5 billion every single year to some cause. What sorts of causes?
Though there are thousand things we could do with this tithing money, just take one example that has been heavy on my heart in recent years… rescuing girls from human trafficking.
A rescue center was recently started in Seattle called “The Genesis Project.” (It is featured in the movie, Rape for Profit.) As far as I can tell from their financial statements, they started the project and funded it for well under $1 million (2011 Tax Return, 2012 Balance Sheet). To date, they have rescued 87 human trafficking victims.
So imagine with me…. if churches around the country decided to use just 10% of the money they bring in to help start and run other centers like The Genesis Project, we could start 5000 of these centers…. in just one year!
There are only about 600 cities with populations of over 50,000 people, which means we could put one center in every single city with a population of over 50,000, and still have 4,400 centers that could be started in cities with larger populations.
This is just one example. Obviously, there are large number of worldwide needs that could be addressed. World hunger. Water needs. Health and humanitarian disasters. Schools. Orphanages.
Churches often look at these worldwide problems and say, “It’s too large!” But then we go spend billions of dollars on buildings, parking lots, and soundboards.
I am convinced that most of the world’s problems could be solved if we in the church just spent our tithing money in different ways.
Imagine what the church could do with $50 billion if we decided that nicer buildings, better parking lots, and newer soundboard were not a priority? If Jesus had $50 billion every year, how would He spend it?
Michael Kampff says
That’s a ton of dough. Makes me wonder how much more people would give if they actually trusted it was going to solve the real issues they care about.
I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but I don’t think the solution lies with how the money is spent by churches. I believe the system is inherently flawed – there’s too much overhead, too much individual discretion, and too little transparency built in to the system.
I believe there needs to be an innovation that completely reframes the thinking around tithing. Maybe we could learn something from Kickstarter and build something that allows people to direct their tithe directly to Christian ministries and causes at whatever levels they deem appropriate per project.
Jeremy Myers says
Hm. That is a great idea! You are right that a complete reworking of the system of tithes is needed.
Tommy Everard says
What mostly turned me off to the Lutheran church I attended last weekend was the obvious expense associated with its building and up keep. Some of the older churches that are works of art themselves I can look past, but this was a purely modern building with very little artistic expression.
I admit I have not fared well in the institution of the church in my life time, I am just so very happy that I now understand why I have not fared well and that my faith is no longer tied to the institution.
Jeremy Myers says
It is liberating, right? The freedom and joy in following Jesus that does not depend on a weekly meeting in a building is unbelievable!
Tommy Everard says
Yes. Incredibly. No longer feeling guilty for not being in a organized fellowship and realizing that every person I know IS my community is just mind blowing. My atheist friends at work. My christian friends who I know through that weekly meeting or my daughters school. The friends I have kept through the years. My family, my wifes family. These are the people I need to serve and carry my cross for every day. I just hope that someday I will have enough like minded Christian friends that want to do communion they way it was meant to be done on a regular basis.
Clive Clifton says
The Church I have attended for the past 33 years has always given 10% of its income to many needy charities and each year looks at each one to make sure we are giving to the right ones(in our opinion) and increase or add new ones to our list. We also give one off emergency payments when we are made aware of a problem.
Jeremy Myers says
Very good, Clive. I wish more churches did things like that. I think more and more are.
Wow! This really confirms the obvious – There’s lots of money to be raked in using the medium of religion. and the very clearly proclaimed message that “God is telling you to give us your money”. Yeah, right! Apparently there is no shortage of gullible people.
Organized religion, and I’m referring to organized “Christianity” in the USA, is a far, far cry from the “church” we find in the New Testament. Billions for buildings, only spare change for widows, orphans, the homeless, needy, cold and poor.
So much more could be said, but few understand or care. Do we really need expensive buildings, staff and programs to “attract” the kind of people we want to attract? Or are we merely kidding ourselves and paying for all of this stuff for our own benefit? We really don’t want stinky, addicted, mentally ill, poor, troubled people, prostitutes, gays, people who need help, and the list goes on and on. We want to look and feel good about ourselves and our group. But none of this looks like Jesus. None of it.
Neil Braithwaite says
Sadly, most of my Christian friends get livid when they hear of a
government program that spends 90%+ of its budget on its self-sustaining
bureaucracy, and only 10%- on the actual purpose. But without a second thought, they have no
problem supporting their local corporate churches who do the very same – and all in the name of Jesus.
Several years ago we were invited to attend a teen play at a friend’s church. The play took place in the “youth” building. Afterwards, I commented on the nice (multi-million dollar) building to one of the teen parents, who responded with “Yeah, the adults have such nice buildings to meet in, we decided to build this one for our kids.” At least the guy was honest. They spend their money on buildings for themselves and their kids (and implied in the continued conversation, on staff to take care of them and their kids). Sigh.
Jeremy Myers says
Wow. Well, as you say, at least he was honest. Too bad they didn’t build a rehab center for drug-addicts, or a safe-house for prostitutes who need protection from pimps.
Mark Pixley says
Great post, and the really disproportionate thing about it is this is all done using the “law” demanding the tithe when not one New Testament book endorses this model (The reference in Hebrews was not to establish tithe as it was to establish Jesus in a different order, and his comments in the gospels was to people living under the law)…how is it that no other “law” is preached with the same force and conviction as tithing? To even question it will get you into trouble in a lot of circles…Martyn Shenstone and others have written exceptional studies demonstrating the dishonesty of this model…add this to the fact that this all happens where the richest 5% of the planet are (which you are as well) and it is really out of whack…
Jeremy Myers says
Great point, Mark. Yes, the whole law of the tithe is so twisted in our churches, all in an attempt to guilt people into giving their money to an institution that claims to be doing “the Lord’s work.”
I am going to come at this from a different angle- (hope it doesn’t offend)- money is not the issue in my view. Time and connection is more the issue. I believe that money has become for many churches a bigger priority than it ever should be. I believe what these numbers show is an inordinate place in worldliness and a focus on what the world focuses on. If you went the other way and de emphasized money as evil you would get the same result. Wall Street loves money- Social liberals believe all problems can be solved with it. Time and living within ones means equals focus on what matters- and actually the goal (spreading the gospel to those right in front of us RIGHT IN FRONT OF US) becomes clearer. I personally believe the focus on money as the way to really minister and a focus off of money as inherently evil are both BOTH a FOCUS ON MONEY. That’s a problem. Living within ones means and doing what one can with what one has is central. “Living quiet lives, working with our hands and minding our own business” is probably key for me on focusing on what others really need- Jesus Christ . I can use money to help but this accounting system so many churches have is bunk. I went to a church (a couple actually) years ago where the most prominent books on display outside the church were associated with business models for church growth. Anyway my 2 cents
One other thing- I believe actually if churches were smaller, more focused on doctrine and becoming stronger disciples this emphasis on externals would take its proper shape. Money just is. It isn’t wrong to have it- but if we are wringing our hands over what to do with it- maybe we have too much of it-and we are focused on it too much. Has anyone ever thought what our national debt really is- 17 TRILLION dollars and if you counted by 1 every second you would reach that number in 100’s of thousands of years- and they print it!!! What is the value in this man made paper- oh I know things can be purchased to help others sure, but the news media and our lives are now consumed with this( I get consumed with it). Money isn’t the problem- focus is the problem- and I need to take my own advice.
Jeremy Myers says
You are absolutely right. We definitely need to get the focus off of money, and back onto people. Jesus did talk a lot about money, but usually to condemn it and to tell people to use what money they had to provide the poor and protect the needy. Our government tells us we should give them money so they can do these things for us, and we are only too happy to “let” them so we will not be bothered.
Love your picture there, by the way.
Dustin Ryman says
The question should not be IF Jesus had 50 billion how would he spend it since Jesus would never allow wealth or money to accumulate around him. Jesus would condemn those wealthy and rich organizations.
Rather the question should be: why are so many people still being brainwashed into believing that tithing is important and why do we continue to allow thieves and frauds into the pulpits to teach these things?
Jeremy Myers says
Yep! Did you see my post on the Preachers of LA? I have people getting on there saying that it is our duty to give generously to our pastors, because only then will God bless us with greater riches! Thieves and frauds is right. https://redeeminggod.com/preachers-of-la/
Dustin Ryman says
Yes I read it. Great post. Thanks for bringing these things to our attention. Awareness is the first step to change.
Dustin Ryman says
That’s what I don’t get. A church takes in 100% and only gives back 10%to ‘worthy causes’. (Not all churches I’m sure but it’s probably an accurate representation of what goes on)
The other 90% goes to pay another man(or woman)to tell you how to serve God and how to live, a big building that is used only 2-3 hours a week to allow another man or woman to hold your hand and read the Bible to you.
How is this not a waste of money?!
A church we attended a few years ago prided itself in giving 10% to “missions”. The other 90% went to buildings, salaries and programs. However, a closer look revealed that most of the money given to “missions” actually went to flying missionaries back and forth, building missionary housing and paying missionary salaries. Once again, it would appear that the lion’s share of the funds went to salaries, properties and programs.
I know what you mean. There needs to be radical change and deconstruction within Christianity.
Jeremy Myers says
I couldn’t agree more!
Kia Kordestani says
We always need Christ. But we may also need financial advisors at times. Either Christian advisors or secular.
Jesus advises us to pay our taxes and keep our responsibilities to obeying authorities. Therefor it would be foolish when it comes tax time, payday, or mortgages due to tell Uncle Sam, the head pastor or the bank sorry, my Lord does not focus on these things and I’m giving my money instead to a cause he approves of. I don’t think Jesus would approve of such action.
When Jesus preached he was surrounded by literal poverty. There hardly was any middle class, just the few rich leaders and the rest of their poor servants. People were broken spiritually because of many reasons that commonly included hunger leading to temptation, doubt, fear, sin etc. We all still break but not so often because of hunger anymore, at least not in the western world where the middle class is now easily the majority by population and poverty is a small percent.
We are blessed to be living in a culture with plenty of provisions to take care of many different needs and ministries. How many sex traffic shelters do you think were in Rome 2000 years ago? For the last 2000 years most of the churches tithes went into church buildings themselves before going into chapels and now a variety of other ministries that take care of sex trade workers for example. The result in serving God is impressive. No other King has ever served so many people and has built as many castles as my Lord.
2000 years ago there literally was not enough money in the suburban or rural communities to always send the disciples to go buy food from the city and so Jesus provided miracles as needed. It was wise for the disciples to give away all their fields and any buildings on them to follow Jesus ministry that called upon them.
Today there is enough food to feed the needy. Our temptation no longer comes from being hungry. Our temptation is likely to instead come from being greedy or sexually immoral. And so we still need Christ that may call on us to tithe towards setting up shelters for victims of the sex trade.
The focus of what to do with money is different at different times and shows God how well his disciples are with handling money. If we have $50billion, there is enough money to pay Uncle Sams taxes, give the pastors their fair wages, pay down the church buildings debt and take care of many people’s special needs. The people who can manage to effectively spend wealth on all these things for the furtherance of Gods kingdom is pleasing in His eyes. The one who builds up his own office, own church building or own home without taking care of the many other special needs is contrary to this.
The solution is to figure out what Jesus would do in our shoes today. We don’t have to literally carry the cross like he did and our pastors are no longer literal shepherds tending to livestock. Our communities and some of our needs have changed. We are surrounded by wealth. Almost every man, woman and child lives in a modern castle and drives a modern chariot in the continent I live on. And yet many of us still need financial advise sometimes directly from Jesus.
And if we can’t find a direct answer in a specific verse, we should keep praying that God finds a solution for whatever financial problem or need our family, church, work or community may have. We just may find ourselves planting seeds with a secular financial advisor.