Tithing Trends and Methods: What Parishioners Are Saying

Most churchgoers say tithing is a biblical command and give at least 10% of their income. But they have more diverse opinions on the “where” and “how” of tithing.

More than 3 in 4 American Protestant churchgoers say tithing is a biblical command that still applies today (77%). One in 10 (10%) say it is not. And 13% are uncertain about the matter. Compared to 2017, fewer churchgoers today believe tithing is a biblical command that still applies (77% v. 83%) and more are not sure (13% v. 10%).

“Giving 10% of your earnings to God is still a widespread standard among churchgoers,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “The small decline in considering tithing a command appears to be more from a lack of teaching on the subject than a rejection of such teaching.”

The youngest adult churchgoers, those 18-34, are the least likely to agree tithing is a biblical command that still applies today (66%). Denominationally, Lutherans are the least likely to agree (59%).

Those with evangelical beliefs are more likely than those without evangelical beliefs to say tithing is biblical and currently applicable (85% v. 71%). And those who attend a worship service at least four times a month are more likely than those who attend one to three times a month (80% v. 72%) to agree.

How Much Do Churchgoers Give?

By definition, a tithe is one-tenth. And while more than 3 in 4 churchgoers believe giving a tithe is biblical, only half (51%) give 10% or more of their income to the church they attend. Three in 10 (31%) say they give a tithe, and 19% give more. More than 1 in 5 (22%) say they try to give but aren’t always consistent. And 16% say they regularly give less than a tithe. Another 9% say their finances make it difficult to give, and 2% say they do not give.

Although fewer give 10% of their income to the church today compared to 2017 (31% v. 37%), the percentage of churchgoers who give 10% or more has remained relatively steady (51% v. 54%). Today, fewer churchgoers regularly give less than a tithe (16% v. 20%). And more try to give but are not consistent (22% v. 17%).

“Believing God wants you to tithe and doing it are two different things,” McConnell said. “Some who do not tithe are consistent with their giving at a lower threshold, and others give when they feel they are able. Like many exhortations in Scripture, giving your finances to God is not necessarily easy in practice.”

Several church-related factors impact a person’s likelihood of giving to the church they attend. Baptist (40%), Presbyterian/Reformed (34%), and non-denominational (34%) churchgoers are more likely to tithe 10% of their income than Lutheran (19%), Restorationist Movement (17%) and Methodist (12%) churchgoers. Additionally, those who attend worship services at least four times a month (34%) are more likely to tithe than those who attend one to three times a month (26%). And those with evangelical beliefs are more likely than those without evangelical beliefs to tithe (39% v. 25%).

Where Can You Tithe?

Most churchgoers who say tithing is an applicable biblical command say tithe money can be given to their church (90%). Most also say tithes can be given to a Christian ministry (55%). Fewer say tithes can be given to an individual in need (42%) or to another church they don’t regularly attend (34%). One in 4 believe tithes can be given to a secular charity (25%). And 1% are not sure.

Today, fewer churchgoers than in 2017 say tithe money can be given to their church (90% v. 98%). And more said tithes can be given to Christian ministries (55% v. 48%), an individual in need (42% v. 34%), or a secular charity (25% v. 18%).

Denominationally, Lutheran (98%), Presbyterian/Reformed (96%), Baptist (93%) and non-denominational (92%) churchgoers are among the most likely to say tithe money can be given to their churches. Lutheran and Presbyterian/Reformed churchgoers are also among the most likely to say tithes can be given to another church they don’t regularly attend (58% and 53%, respectively) or a Christian ministry (72% and 68%). Lutherans are also among the most likely to say tithes can be given to a secular charity (45%), and Presbyterian/Reformed churchgoers are among the most likely to say they can be given to an individual in need (51%).

Conversely, Baptists are among the least likely to say tithes can be given to a Christian ministry (51%), individuals in need (37%), another church they don’t regularly attend (34%) or a secular charity (19%).

Those with evangelical beliefs are more likely than those without evangelical beliefs to say tithe money can be given to their churches (95% v. 85%), while those without evangelical beliefs are more likely than those with such beliefs to say tithes can be given to a secular charity (29% v. 20%).

Does Method Matter?

Although the past five years have seen a noticeable increase in online giving, most churchgoers still give cash at church (53%). Fewer give a check at church (30%) or mail one to the church (9%). Others give electronically on the church website (23%), through their bank (14%), through an app the church provided (7%), or via text (2%). And 8% of churchgoers have automated payments set up for their tithes.

Nearly half as many churchgoers today compared to 2017 give a check at church (30% v. 59%). But more churchgoers mail checks to the church today (9% v. 3%). And more are giving electronically through all formats—church website (23% v. 11%), banks (14% v. 5%), automated payments (8% v. 3%), or church app (7% v. 3%).

Those 18-34 are among the most likely to give cash at church (75%), on the church website (28%), through an app the church provided (10%), or via text (7%). Churchgoers 65 or older are the most likely to give a check (47%).

“While electronic giving has grown significantly in the last five years, 6 in 10 (62%) churchgoers who give do not yet utilize electronic giving methods to give to their church,” McConnell said. “Churches would likely be better served by emphasizing the motivation to give than the mode.”

First published on LifewayResearch.com. Used by permission.