Three out of four Christian households experienced stagnant or declining income levels during the past year. However, many of those households have managed to keep debt levels under control, according to results from the second annual View from the Pew, a constituency survey of 1,029 Christian households conducted during the first six months of 2010 by Christianity Today International, publisher of Your Church and Church Finance Today, and Maximum Generosity.
Only 23 percent of households saw their family's income increase from the previous 12 months. Meanwhile, as the U.S. economic recession continued, 44 percent saw their income stay the same and 33 percent saw their income go down.
Challenges with income did not necessarily result in higher levels of debt, however. The primary debt obligation for 64 percent of respondents was a home mortgage, according to the survey; only 35 percent of households reported car payments, and 70 percent said they actively pay off their credit cards in full every month.
In an encouraging sign for churches, 78 percent of those surveyed in the View from the Pew said they continue to give 10 percent or more of their income to local churches and ministries. When asked when they learned this practice, 60 percent said it was before age 30.
The View from the Pew asked participants to provide information about how the economy affected their household during the prior 12 months concerning employment, finances, debts, and giving/tithing. It was designed to provide a snapshot on the realities and attitudes of finances in Christian households around the country. Five significant themes emerged from the latest survey's results:
1.Incomes have flat-lined or declined for 77 percent of households
For many decades, many Americans expected to see their incomes increase each year. But that picture has dramatically changed. Positions have been eliminated, paychecks have gone away, pensions have gone down, and investment portfolios have been battered. The result is that only 23 percent of households saw their family's income increase from the previous 12 months. Meanwhile, 44 percent saw their income stay the same and 33 percent saw theirs go down.
2.This recession is touching the lives of loved ones and friends
This economic downturn is personal for many families. In the survey, 96 percent said they personally know people who lost their job in the last year; 44 percent know people that moved away to find employment; and 30 percent personally know people who lost their home through foreclosure. In any group of people there are always some with surplus, some that are stable, some that are struggling, and some that are sinking. It is important that those who have surplus or are stable look for active ways to help those who are struggling or sinking.
3.The majority of families have everything paid off except for their house
In the View from the Pew, the primary debt obligation for 64 percent of families is a home mortgage. Only 35 percent of households have car payments, and 70 percent of households actively pay off their credit cards in full every month. The other debts people carried included student loans (18 percent), medical bills (17 percent), home equity loans (15 percent), and/or family/personal loans (11 percent). A growing number of people are learning to actively eliminate debt, or avoid it altogether.
4.Tithing and generosity start young and become a lifelong practice
For many people of faith, giving was learned early on and continues to be practiced as a priority in good and bad economic times. Among survey responders that actively give 10 percent or more of their income to the Lord's work, this practice was learned earlier in life rather than later.
When asked "What percent of income do you donate?":
- 22 percent said they give less than 10 percent of their income;
- 18 percent give 10 percent of their income;
- 42 percent give 11 percent to 15 percent of their income;
- 10 percent give 16 percent to 20 percent of their income
- And, 8 percent give more than 20 percent of their income.
For those that give 10 percent or more of their income, 27 percent started in their childhood/teen years, 33 percent started in their 20's, 20 percent started in their 30's, and only 20 percent started after the age of 40.
When asked, "Who influenced your biblical understanding about how to manage your personal finances and giving?" respondents said:
- the late Larry Burkett, 54 percent;
- a church pastor, 46 percent;
- Dave Ramsey, 44 percent;
- Crown Financial Ministries, 44 percent;
- Parents, 41 percent;
- Brian Kluth, 35 percent;
- Randy Alcorn, 26 percent;
- and Ron Blue, 25 percent.
The survey also showed that 98 percent of people faithfully give to their local church, but they also generously support many other Christian and charitable causes. Besides giving to their local church, the following were the top 10 places people gave during the prior 12 months:
- Missions/Missionaries, 60 percent
- Crisis/Relief/Natural Disasters/Refugees, 45 percent
- Unemployed people they knew, 33 percent
- Local Community/Cultural/Sports/School Groups, 28 percent
- Denominations, 26 percent
- Homeless People/Beggars, 25 percent
- Media/Radio/TV Ministries, 24 percent
- Evangelism/Evangelistic Crusades, 24 percent
- Students/Military Ministries, 23 percent
- Rescue Missions/Homeless Ministries, 23 percent
5.More Bible reading increases giving and reduces debt
In the survey results, there was a direct correlation between how often respondents read the Bible and the amount they give and the amount of debt they carry. Eighty-five percent who read the Bible four to seven times per week are more than twice as likely to donate 10 percent or more of their income than those who do not read the Bible (40 percent).
For those who read their Bible seven times a week, they carried fewer debt obligations—50 percent had mortgage payments, 31 percent had car payments, and 24 percent had credit card bills beyond 30 days old. These percentages were much lower than those who never read their Bible—80 percent had mortgage payments, 53 percent had car payments, and 53 percent had credit card bills beyond 30 days old.
For more details and graphs on the View from the Pew research, go to: ChurchLawAndTaxStore.com.
Brian Kluth is a pastor, author, speaker, and media expert on church giving and biblical generosity. He is also a Contributing Editor to Your Church. His best-selling GenerousLife.org40-Day Bible devotional has over 400,000 copies in print, translations underway in over 40 foreign languages, and has been used by more than 1,300 churches to inspire greater generosity and increased giving. In August 2010, he will release a book with Moody Publishers, Experiencing God as Your Provider: Keys to Financial Stability in Unstable Times.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Your Church magazine.
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