Guest / Limited Access /

This could be the worst moment in our lifetimes to discover that American Christians give away relatively little of their money.

The economy is in the midst of the worst downturn in at least 17 years and the most serious U.S. banking crisis in at least 20. It has the potential to be as painful as the Great Depression. Banks are failing. Workers are losing their jobs. Homeowners are losing their homes.

But this may actually be the best time for an emerging study that delivers the bad news. Over the next few months or years, as our economy travels down a long road of recovery, our neighbors may need much more assistance than we've grown accustomed to providing. And like skyrocketing home prices, the lack of generosity among American Christians is a trend that cannot continue without doing serious harm.

More than one out of four American Protestants give away no money at all—"not even a token $5 per year," say sociologists Christian Smith, Michael Emerson, and Patricia Snell in a new study on Christian giving, Passing the Plate (Oxford University Press).

Of all Christian groups, evangelical Protestants score best: only 10 percent give nothing away. Evangelicals tend to be the most generous, but they do not outperform their peers enough to wear a badge of honor. Thirty-six percent report that they give away less than two percent of their income. Only about 27 percent tithe.

Economists sometimes view recessions as necessary purgings of excessive behavior, correcting irrational investments in stocks in the 1920s or tulips in 17th-century Holland. Perhaps the current correction, as families learn to live on less and depend on each other more, will make American Christians more generous. It would be a correction long overdue.

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedWho Should Fund a Church Plant?
Who Should Fund a Church Plant?
Church planting is vital to the growth of the global church, but who's stuck with the bill?
TrendingFive Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon
Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon
If you want to help people see Holy Week with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies.
Editor's PickGod's Hot Pursuit of an Armed Bank Robber
God's Hot Pursuit of an Armed Bank Robber
After I surrendered to the FBI, I surrendered to the Holy Spirit.
Leave a Comment

Use your Christianity Today login to leave a comment on this article. Not part of the community? Subscribe now, or register for a free account.

hide thisDecember December

In the Magazine

December 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.