Handy Reference List of Facts from Empty Tomb, inc. Church Giving Research

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Here are some handy church giving facts from empty tomb, inc.'s research series.

Fact 1: Church member giving was higher in the depth of the Great Depression than in 2015.

Here are a few facts from empty tomb, inc.’s series, The State of Church Giving, published annually by the Champaign, Illinois, Christian research and service organization.

Fact 1.    Church member giving was higher in the depth of the Great Depression than in 2015. The year 1933 was the depth of the Great Depression, with the lowest per capita income from 1921 through the present. In 1933, churches received 3.2% of their members’ incomes. In 2015, churches received 2.2% of their members’ incomes. Meanwhile, U.S. per capita Disposable (after-tax) Personal Income had increased 660% in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $5,034 in 1933 to $38,237 in 2015.

Fact 2.    Churches were keeping more of their donations for internal expenses in 2015 compared to 1968. When a church receives contributions from members, those Total Contributions dollars are generally divided into two categories. Congregational Finances pays for the internal expenses of the congregations. Benevolences refers to money spent beyond the congregation, whether sent on to the denomination or spent on mission by the congregation. In 1968, local churches spent 21% on Benevolences, and 79% on Congregational Finances. In 2015, churches spent 16% on Benevolences, and 84% on Congregational Finances.

Fact 3.    Church member giving as a percent of income has been in decline since at least 1968. In 1968, on average, church members gave 3.02% of their incomes to their churches. In 2015, the amount was 2.17%.

Fact 4.    The declining trend in per member giving as a percent of income to churches is evident in Evangelical as well as Mainline Protestant congregations. Although members of Evangelical churches continued to give a larger portion of income to their churches in 2015 than did members of Mainline Protestant churches, the rate of decline in giving as a percent of income was more pronounced in Evangelical churches than in Mainline churches between 1968 and 2015.

Fact 5.    Congregations sent a smaller portion of Total Contributions to their denominations for global missions in 2015 than in 1925. Congregations in a group of eight denominations spent an average of seven cents of each dollar on denominational global missions in 1925. In 2015, congregations in these eight denominations spent an average of two cents of each dollar of Total Contributions on denominational global missions. When the 2015 group was broadened to include 26 denominations, the average amount of each Total Contributions dollar spent on denominational global missions remained at two cents.

Fact 6.    The Under-25 age group apparently learns giving in a religious context. In The State of Church Giving series, empty tomb analyzes data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey. A finding that has been consistent for the past several years is that the Under-25 age group donates the smallest portion of their income. However, of the amount given by the Under-25 cohort, the large majority of their giving is directed to the category of “church, religious organizations.” For example, in 2015, the portion of giving by the Under-25 group was 74% to “church, religious organizations.” As people age, they also add on gifts to “charities and other organizations” and “educational institutions.” However, gifts to “church, religious organizations” continue to attract the largest portion of the charitable gifts in every age group.

Fact 7.    Church members in the U.S. control, through their incomes, the equivalent of the third largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world. In 2014, the estimated total income of church members in the U.S. was $7.7 trillion dollars. The amount is behind only the $19 trillion GDP of the entire United States in 2014, and the $12 trillion GDP of China in 2014.

Fact 8.    Potential giving among church members in the U.S. is in the billions of dollars. If native-born church members in the U.S. gave at the same level as foreign-born residents in the U.S. send to their home countries in remittances, the increased amount in church member giving in 2015 would have been $422 billion.

These and other findings are available in The State of Church Giving through 2015: Understanding the Times (Champaign, IL: empty tomb, inc., 2017). The book is the 27th edition in the series. The book is available through Wipf and Stock Customer Service by phone at 541-344-1528 or orders(at)wipfandstock.com, or through amazon.com.

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