Giving a Tenth to God -- Study Shows Nation-wide Decrease in Tithing

May 23, 2003 11:54 AM EDT

WASHINGTON— The Barna Research group showed a severe drop in tithing in 2002. The study showed only three percent of American adults followed one of the most ancient religious practices; a 62 percent drop from the 8 percent in 2001.

Tithing as a practice came even before the commandment given to Moses: "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: It is holy unto the Lord" (Leviticus 27:10). .Even long before Abraham tithed to the priest Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20), the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians offered 10 percent of their annual earnings -- or harvests -- to their temples.

The study showed that even among “born-again Christians” representing 38 percent of Americans, the tithe decreased from 14 percent in 2001 to 6 percent in 2002.

Researcher George Barna believes several factors attributes to this development including the soft economy, terrorism and the prospect of war, which have "raised the level of caution."

Barna also pointed to the cases of clergy sex scandals as a reason for the decline. However, he noted the decline in tithing is not mainly a Catholic event. Catholics, according to statistics, have been among five segments of the population who paid less than one-tenth of one percent to their church, Barna reports; the other four groups are: Hispanics, liberals, downscale households earning less than $20,000 a year and not being headed by college graduates, and parents who home-school their children.

The study suggested many reasons specifically as to why Catholics don’t tithe.

"We used to have huge congregations," said the Rev. Robert E. Murray, a canon lawyer in New York. "This meant that a lot of money came in even if each individual member paid a small amount. Protestant congregations, by comparison, were much smaller. Thus people were more conscious of the fact that the church depended on their generosity."

Reflecting this need, the most generous donors among America's Christians are mainline Protestants and evangelicals, along with people 55 and older, college graduates, Republicans, conservatives and Southerners. 19 percent of evangelicals gave tithe – 3 times higher than the national average. The Lutheran Church was also shown to have the highest tithing rate among the denominations.

The Rev. David Strand, communications director of this theologically conservative church estimates that 15 percent of its 2.6 million members tithe, not just by writing checks but also by giving time. This is enormously important considering that pastors, who work 60 to 70 hours per week, simply do not have the time to handle all the tasks in a parish.

Strand added those who tithe in the LCMS often give much more than 10 percent. Theologically, though, tithing is not a matter of salvation. It is "no investment in the Hereafter," as Strand phrased it.

If tithing is not about the venue where one spends eternity -- what is it then? Said Strand, "It is simply an expression of the implications of Jesus Christ in one's life."

By Pauline J.