Sylvia and John Ronsvalle publish meticulous, hand-crafted annual reports on the state of church giving. They study charitable giving statistics, and follow denominational reports assiduously. Their latest report is over 200 pages, full of charts and graphs. It makes for depressing reading.
Here’s the bottom line: church members give less than ever, as a percentage of income. The trend has been downward since 1968, when church members gave, on average, 3.11% of their income to charitable causes. The latest data, for 2009, shows they gave 2.38%.
If you take seriously Jesus’ words that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, those numbers hurt.
The worst news, according to the Ronsvalles, is the decline in what they call “benevolences.” Benevolences are the part of the church budget that goes to help people outside the church—missions, whether foreign or local, whether oriented toward preaching or economic aid. “Benevolences,” measured as a percentage of income, is half what it used to be–.34% versus .66% in 1968.
The situation seems bleak for all churches, regardless of theology or tradition.
The Ronsvalles see a retreat from engagement with the world, and a lack of seriousness. As a spur to the imagination, this year’s report includes information about the 16 countries making “no progress” in reducing under-5 child deaths—a major Millennium Development Goal. Of these 16 countries, ten are majority Christian, with an average of 85% self-identified Christians. Why don’t American Christians get serious in helping those countries reduce their child mortality? The Ronsvalles’ very rough estimates suggest it could be done quite easily.
“It seems appropriate,” the Ronsvalles write, “to empower Christians living in the U.S. in the 21st century to produce fruit in keeping with their professed faith…. Current church structures have broad communication and delivery channels that could be used to lead toward mobilization of church members to help the least. To date, however, the leadership has not organized to strengthen and encourage Christians to act on their potential for helping the least at the same level they would if they really believed they were helping Jesus himself.” [p. 142]