The way people give is changing.
If your church hasn’t felt the results of those changes yet, you will soon.
If you are feeling them, you may be scrambling to figure out what’s happening, why, and what to do about it.
The good news: everyone is experiencing this, or is about to. So you’re not alone in it.
The bad news: everyone is experiencing this, or is about to. So even the usual lifeboats (denominational support, and so on) are less likely to be there when we need them.
Since these changes in church giving patterns are so universal, the sooner we understand and adapt to what’s happening, the better.
Let’s take a look at 4 major shifts that are happening in the way people give to their local church.
1. A Drop In Per Person Giving May Not Indicate A Problem (But It Probably Does)
One of the first financial principles I was taught about pastoring was to keep an eye on the church’s giving patterns. Not because ministry is about money, but because a church’s offering patterns are like the canary in the coal mine. They’ve always been one of the earliest, most accurate barometers of congregational displeasure, dysfunction or anger.
Before people tell the pastor they’re unhappy, they stop or slow their giving down. Often subconsciously. So a drop in per person giving was always a cause for concern. Not just because it made the bills harder to pay, but because it was an accurate early warning signal of underlying problems.
While it’s still true that people stop or slow their giving when they’re unhappy, that is no longer the only reason for a drop in giving.
In the church I pastor, for instance, every other indicator of health and strength is up, from overall attendance, to new believers, to ministry involvement, and more. But giving has not just flattened out, it’s dropped every year for six years – until this year. (I’ll talk about how we made that course-correction in a future blog post.)
Here are some of the reasons why an otherwise healthy church might be experiencing a financial downturn.
Reaching Younger People: New generations are giving less money than previous generations did. And for different reasons. (You can read more about this trend in my previous article, People Won't Commit to the Church Any More? Don't You Believe It.)
Reaching the Unchurched: Churches filled with second, third or fourth generation believers will take in more money per person than churches who are reaching new people.