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Christianity produces generosity

Daniel Darling | Here is proof—and important lessons as well


A passer-by places money is a Salvation Army bucket in Jackson, Miss. Associated Press/Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

Christianity produces generosity
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The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that God loves a cheerful giver. But studies show that the best formula for cheerful giving turns out to be love for God. The American Bible Society recently released findings from their annual State of the Bible survey that interviewed participants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The study showed that practicing Christians are far more generous than the rest of the American population:

  • Americans who identify with a Christian tradition and attend church at least once a month are 40 percent more likely to give than those who do not identify with a Christian tradition.

  • Americans who attend church regularly are 75 percent more likely to donate than those who do not attend church.

  • Americans who read their Bibles regularly outside of a church service are 55 percent more likely to donate than those who don’t.

What’s interesting about the American Bible Society’s data is that the way local church involvement directly correlates to higher frequency of giving to charity. A full 87 percent of church attenders made donations to some church or charity while only 50 percent of non-church attenders gave. And the frequency of giving is not related to income. In fact, American Christians with lower incomes, who attend church regularly and read their Bibles frequently give a higher percentage of their income away.

This might come as a surprise to the critics of Christianity, who often accuse the church of hypocrisy and indifference toward the vulnerable, but the data shows that the more a person embraces Christianity, the more generous that person becomes. This tracks with the work of historians like Tom Holland, whose book Dominion chronicles the origins of major social movements in world history and points them back to the Christian church. It is Christianity that gave the world the moral vocabulary to see dignity in the poor and the change of heart that allows one to hold possessions lightly. As pastor Tim Keller articulated in a speech to the British Parliament, even the values by which some (often unfairly) criticize the church—universal human rights, poverty alleviation, etc—are values that came to society from the church.

This data set comes with a word for public officials, who might not recognize the power of local churches in meeting real human need in their communities. Some, like the newly announced Democratic candidate for governor in Texas, Beto O’Rourke, have called for removing the tax-exempt status of churches. Others have called for shutting down faith-based ministries like foster care and adoption services, simply because churches and Christians refuse to yield to the demands of the sexual revolution. But animus toward Christians only leaves the vulnerable more vulnerable, robbing society of its most effective bulwark against human suffering. In the name of “progress,” what gets tossed to the wayside are the very people whom progressivism desires to serve.

And yet there is also a word for the church here. While data shows Christians are the most charitable Americans, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Christians have no room to grow in our generosity. The most recent giving studies show that American Christians only give 2.5 percent of their income and only five percent tithe. While we are far more generous than the rest of the population, we are still far from living out the command of Jesus, who urged us to resist storing up treasures on earth, but to invest in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:19-20). Imagine how much more work could be done, both to share the good news of the gospel and to love our neighbors, if Christians further resisted the materialistic appeals of the age.

We might also find ourselves fulfilling the promise of Paul’s words. The State of the Bible survey also shows higher levels of happiness correspond to higher percentages of giving. It turns out the Apostle had a word for our hedonistic age. It really is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). More blessed for the Christian. More blessed for the nation.


Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a bestselling author of several books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words. He is also the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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LROB4976

How can 5% be a tithe? 🤔
You are right, we claim to be Christ followers, but ignore his basic teachings, not just in tithes.
We will all stand before God on judgment day. What will our answers be?

SJSLROB4976

The 5% refers to the % of people who tithe, not that they are giving a "tithe" of 5%. He is using the term properly, as written. Fortunately we are no longer under Law since Jesus was the end of the law and we are fully forgiven in Christ. As a result we can purpose in our hearts and give joyfully. And our giving can be whatever amount we decide upon. Oh what joy to live a life of freedom in Christ!

mrbobmac

Generosity is a funny aspect of the Christian faith. It is hard for preachers to preach *strongly* about the need to be 'abundantly generous' without it seeming self-serving—if not personally at least towards their church. That is why I particularly value talks on abundant generosity where the speaker has no vested interest in the audience's generosity (for example, resources from Kingdom Advisors, Generous Giving, etc.).

The harder part is preaching generosity *from the heart*. I am not trying to be guilt-inducing when I encourage a Christian to up their giving from 2.5% to 10-15-20%. The 2 Cor. 9:7 reference is frequently quoted on the "cheerful" giving phrase, while the first half of the phrase is often neglected: "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart,...". In order to give without reluctance, without compulsion, or cheerfully (the latter three items in the verse), I must be able to decide in advance. So challenging people to grow their heart for giving is the best encouragement and prayer.

"I'm not praying God will make you give more. I'm praying God will change your heart *so you WANT to give more*." And those are two very different things.

Tom Hanrahan

"A full 87 percent of church attenders made donations to some church or charity while only 50 percent of non-church attenders gave"
While this is heartening, I would be interested to see data that show donations to charity *outside the church* between the two groups; would it be true (I hope it would be) that church attenders, in addition to giving to their local church, also be more generous in outside giving also?

AlanETom Hanrahan

Tom, it's an interesting question, but I'm reluctant to embrace your premise that one can give as readily to secular non-profits as to the church. I give to the church because I hold it as a matter of obedience and, at most times and places, I am happy to obey. Giving to secular non-profits often commits the funds I give to policies that run counter to truths I hold dear. I do give to secular non-profits, but on a scale far more limited than I give to the church and church-related agencies. I give where I use, but am not charged for, services, and I give where I'm convinced that core principles are not violated. But, meeting either of those two conditions greatly limits the opportunities.

Tom HanrahanAlanE

I totally agree, Alan. To clarify what I was getting at:
- I was including (besides secular non-profits) other ministries run by believers which aim at those things God calls useful: feeding the poor, helping find jobs, putting families together, drug addiction, saving babies. Just not strictly churches.
- My thought was if I tell an unbeliever the stats in this article they might claim "that is only because Christians give mostly to their church", thus in their mind believing our charity is self-focused. But if it is true we ALSO help the poor and hurting, regardless of their beliefs, that counterpoint is hollow.