Monday, September 27, 2010

Tithing practice experiment reveals faith growth opportunities

Are you a Christian whose blood pressure rises during the fall because your congregation talks about money for a week or two this season? Are you a pastor who is expected to deliver a message about giving so that the church can create a budget (which seems to be a conflict of interest because it affects your bottom line)? Are you a leader in a congregation who feels pressure to get members of a congregation to "step up" in their giving because you stress out about having to make difficult decisions about program cuts, staff cuts or whether you can keep the church building open?

I do not have the answers to the questions that riddle congregations and their pastors in relation to their resources. My goal is to understand the variables involved in giving and that in my preaching I can connect the generosity of God to a Christian's own response in giving. My goal is to diffuse the fear from giving so that giving can be joyful--which parallels my understanding that God gives out of joy.

Last year, I reflected on the theories why people don't give. I am planning to study a book that examines church giving trends. With the help of my colleague, Pastor Orv Jacobson, I've changed my approach yet again this year. Interim ministry has freed me to change my approaches because giving does little to affect my bottom line in ministry. I will be in a different congregation in 2011.

What startled me in my reflection and practices was my negative approach to giving in the life of a Christian and in a community. I do not mean that I've issued threats related to giving or delivered a negative tone in any of my stewardship preaching. However, if I approach people trying to convince people to give, or I join congregation leaders in merely examining why people aren't giving, I'm not giving people an opportunity for growth. What I've essentially done is offered critique without offering a positive alternative.

Think about what many congregations ask their members to do. There's a hope that people in the congregation will tithe--give 10 percent of their income to God's work through the congregation. My experience has shown that not many people in congregations tithe, yet there is a great respect for people who do tithe. Supposedly that is what people in the congregation work toward. I'm not sure if leaders and pastors expect this kind of giving growth through osmosis, because I usually see little, if any support for giving growth in congregational life. Congregations ask their members to tithe, or to commit to a one percent increase in giving in the coming year. The one percent growth can be a difficult challenge, especially if that household is made up of newly intentional givers.

In the discussion with Pastor Orv, here's what we planned.

1. Ask people to try tithing (see Malachi 3) or growing a percentage for a short period of time. Like three months. There will be no "prosperity gospel" promises, like your business will improve or your possessions will increase or your crops will be better. I will rejoice with them if it does happen, but I won't make those kind of promises.

2. Ask people who try giving growth to write down some regular reflections so they can have a prayerful, thoughtful and learning approach to giving.

3. Check in with the people who are trying giving growth--share a little mentoring.

4. Don't give judgment to people who say they decide not to tithe anymore after three months. At least they tried.

5. Keep the identity of the givers (my congregation already does this) and written reflections anonymous and share those reflections with others in hopes that they may learn.

We have three takers (so far) to try tithing for three months since I issued the invitation eight days ago. The blessing for me is the conversation with these people about their faith, their household, and their vocation--conversations I would not have had otherwise. It makes me think the church has created a culture of orphans (in terms of giving) because giving has been clouded by fear.

This idea has already been a win because of the great connections with people about their faith. If you try something similar to this in your congregation, I would love to learn what you learn. If you want to try tithing for three months and want to share your reflections, please let me know. I always find it a blessing to learn about the generosity of God and how that generosity is lived through God's people.


  1. A church I attended strongly encouraged members to make a three-month (four?) commitment to tithing, complete with commitment cards in the bulletin to fill out. Basically a "try it, see what God does" thing. No promises of financial reward, just a promise that ultimately, it will be "worth it." To be honest with you, I came out of it not tithing and at peace with it; that was the outcome of the things He taught me during the commitment period. That said, I have since encouraged other people to make the same commitment, and to honor it fully both with their wallet and their heart to provide Him with the opportunity to work in their lives in that area.

  2. Thank you from sharing your experience--I have great hopes that people will find peace and joy in giving. I've found too much shame over my 12 years of ordained service related to giving. I can't reconcile that anymore and had to change my practices. I knew Pastor Orv and I weren't the first ones to think of something like this--I will draw on your story. I appreciate your post. Peace to you.

  3. We chose to post annonymously as we know that is how you are conducting this "experiment" but we wanted to let you know that we began tithing the first of this month. Since agreeing to do this, we have studied quite a bit about tithing and are shocked by how much controversy there is over it ~ whether it is actually mentioned, let alone required in the New Testament, whether it is on gross or net income, whether all donations to ministries or simply to the general fund equal a tithe, etc. Fascinating. We even found one church website that seemed to discount the Old Testament completely but still referred to those passages regarding tithing. We have chosen to tithe on the income we receive (i.e. net income, gifts, etc.) We are not ones to receive a tax refund but should we by chance, we will tithe that as well. It was interesting to write that 10% check and drop it in the offering box last Sunday as we have participated in Simple Giving for so many years that this almost seemed foreign to us. It also felt wierd to be doing it this way as opposed to an offering plate during church. Our previous church used the offering plate and allowed people to offer money or prayers. Dropping it in a box while people drank coffee just felt odd to me, somewhat disconnected, but so be it. We will continue writing 10% checks each time we receive income for the next 3 months and see how it goes. So far, we have not really felt much about it other than it was another check.