Protestants gave only 2.5 percent of their 1998 after-tax income to churches, a three-decade decline of 19 percent.

A study of 30 mainline and evangelical denominations by empty tomb, inc., a research group in Champaign, Illinois, found that in 1998, members gave $17 billion to their churches, which was $4 billion less than they would have donated had their 1968 giving percentage (3.1%, equaling $2.7 billion) remained constant.

For the Southern Baptist Convention and 10 other denominations, the giving percentage was lower than even the 1933 level, during the Great Depression.

The report, The State of Church Giving Through 1998, noted that average annual contributions grew from $368 to $570 over the three decades, an increase in actual dollars of 55 percent. However, this trailed the 91% increase in after-tax income over that same period.

Sylvia Ronsvalle, a coauthor of the study, said that in a comparison of evangelical and mainline giving, "The rate of decline was much more prominent among the evangelicals."

In 1968, for example, evangelicals gave 6.15 percent of their after-tax income to churches. In 1998 it was 4 percent, for a decline of 35 percent—compared to a mainline dropoff of 10 percent.

Ronsvalle said the study suggests evangelicals "may need to review their self- understanding. We have to become honest about our spending patterns in light of what these numbers say."

Related Elsewhere

empty tomb, inc's Web page offers more detailed information on the Ronsvalle's study, including charts and graphs.

Other media, including The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, covered the study.

Christianity Today senior writer Tim Stafford looked at the ironies of American Christian giving in a May 19, 1997 article, "Anatomy of a Giver | American Christians are the nation's most generous givers, but we aren't exactly sacrificing."

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