Dr. Keith Schwanz
Assistant Dean & Lecturer in Church Music
Dr. Ken Roney, president of the Church of the Nazarene Foundation, reported on the research by one pastor that showed that 68 percent of the giving to the congregation came from persons over the age of 60. Those under 30 years contributed a mere 1 percent of the congregation’s receipts. (http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ht/article.jsp?sid=10005074&id=10012635)
The State of Church Giving report indicated that those 75 years and older gave 3.22 percent of their income to religious organizations in 2009. The percentage was 0.8 for those 25 to 34.
Even the parents of today’s 20- and 30-somethings are giving less to churches. A study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion reported that in 2000 the baby boom generation gave 24 percent less than those born prior to World War II.
Various studies using different methodology have come to the same conclusion: generational giving patterns show a steep decline in contributions to congregations as you move from the oldest to the youngest generations.
The percentage of charitable giving that goes to religious organizations is decreasing too. The Giving USA Foundation reported that, in 1995, 45.0 percent of all charitable giving went to religious groups. By 2006 the percentage had dropped to 32.8 percent.
John Dickerson explored trends like this in his book The Great Evangelical Recession. He concluded that “Unless giving trends change significantly, evangelical giving across the board may drop by about 70 percent during the next twenty-five to thirty years” (84).
Oh, my. If a drop of that magnitude was true last year for the congregation where I am a member, our pastoral staff would have a 43 percent cut in compensation, and then we’d have funds for nothing else—no children’s or youth ministries, no building, no missionary support. If we lost 70 percent of our income, the indebtedness for our facility would be 826 percent of what we raised in 2013. That obviously is unsustainable. The per capita giving would be $491 instead of $1,636.
If Dickerson is correct in his analysis and the trajectory continues, a dramatic adjustment to the economics of ministry has begun. Pastoral compensation will change as will the types of ministry in which a congregation engages. Many congregations will have to rethink facility issues. Support for global missions will change. If this trend holds, everything looks very different 25 years from now.
Congregational leaders need to do their own analysis of generational patterns in giving. They will be best able to plan for the future through a careful review of the congregation’s economic reality today.
Congregations will likely have to revamp how they engage in ministry. Dollar-dominated activities will probably need to be replaced with less expensive ministries. The reliance on paid personnel will give way to teams of volunteers. These moves may actually strengthen the church as a congregation shifts from dependence on dollars to reliance on disciples.
That’s the real need of the church today—a recommitment to a robust, whole-life discipleship. Dickerson asked a key question: “Will we spend the next decade working harder and harder at fundraising—or working harder and harder at disciple making?” (174). We need to start answering that question today.