- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

Church members continue to give less of their income to churches despite increases in membership, according to a study released today by Empty Tomb Inc.

“The church as an investment in people’s lifestyles is losing market share,” said Sylvia Ronsvalle, co-author of the study, “The State of Church Giving Through 2004.”

Church members gave 2.56 percent of their income in 2004, down from 3.11 percent in 1968, according to the last study on data analyzed by Mrs. Ronsvalle and her husband, John L. Ronsvalle. Both figures are well shy of the biblical 10 percent tithe.

Church giving increased from 1998 to 2001, recovering to early 1970s levels before decreasing to the current average.

The study also found more than 85 percent of contributions to churches funded the general operations of the local congregation, while about 15 percent went toward “benevolence,” which was defined as for “the broader mission of the church, beyond the local congregation.”

“Both of these numbers raise the question, ‘Has the church lost its vision?’ ” Mrs. Ronsvalle said. “Is the church turning into a club, or does the church see itself as salt?”

Brian McAuliffe , chief financial officer and director of operations at Willow Creek Community Church, thinks increasing church attendance may cause per capita giving to decrease.

“A lot of times people who are new to churches don’t understand giving back to God,” he said, whose South Barrington, Ill. “It may take a couple of years before someone feels comfortable and says, ‘Yes, I really believe in this, and I want to give to support that.’ ”

Mrs. Ronsvalle said giving began declining in the 1950s when poor Americans became a minority.

“When everyone was poor, you obviously gave. You knew that your kids were one step away from it,” she said. “When we all started getting comfortable in this world … ministers found that people weren’t so excited hearing about the poor.”

The study estimates the cost of global evangelization — helping to stop global childhood death, providing primary education for all children worldwide and addressing poverty in the U.S. — would cost $15 billion annually, or 28 cents per American Christian per day.

“It’s a question of leadership,” Mrs. Ronsvalle said. “Who can galvanize people to say, ‘We don’t want to live in a world where people are dying?’ ”

The Rev. Frank van Dalen, executive director of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church’s foreign missions board, said increasing funding for missions prompts giving to the local church to increase.

“The local budget is never harmed by giving to missions,” he said. “Giving starts to drop when you become focused only on your own needs.”

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