Studies Show Beliefs on Tithing Differ from Pulpit to Pew

Allie Martin & Jody Brown | AgapePress | Friday, March 10, 2006

Studies Show Beliefs on Tithing Differ from Pulpit to Pew

(AgapePress) - Two new studies by the same group reveal that pastors and those attending their churches often disagree when it comes to giving and tithing.

The studies were conducted by Ellison Research. One of the studies examined more than 800 Protestant pastors nationwide; the other surveyed 1,184 people who attend Protestant churches at least once a month. In the study, 56 percent of all clergy say Christians are under a biblical mandate to tithe 10 percent of their income to the local church. Another 12 percent believe Christians are under the ten-percent mandate, but not necessarily to the local church.

But here's the difference highlighted by the second study. Among those attending Protestant churches, only 36 percent said there is a biblical mandate to tithe 10 percent to their church -- and another 23 percent, while agreeing with the ten-percent mandate, feel that giving does not have to be to the local church. The study also found that most people believe a Christian's giving should not be limited to religious groups or causes.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, says the surveys' findings highlight a disconnect between beliefs and actions of church members.

"Given the fact that slightly over a third of all Protestants believe that they're supposed to be tithing to their local church, the local church only has one or two or five or ten percent that are actually doing so," Sellers points out. He feels that clergy members need to find a way to actually tap into the belief that is already there. He suggests they challenge their congregants, noting that "this is something you already believe, this is something you already agree with -- isn't it time you start living up to what you claim to believe?"

Sellers also explains that, according to the two surveys, a person's denomination has a big impact on his or her view of tithing. The diversity of belief, he explains, is widespread across the 56 percent of ministers who believe there is a biblical mandate to tithe 10 percent to the local church.

"[I]f you look across some of the major denominational groups, that's 92 percent among Pentecostal or charismatic ministers; 76 percent among Southern Baptist clergy," the researcher shares. "It goes all the way down to 40 percent among Methodists; 31 percent among Presbyterians; and then down to 8 percent among Lutherans."

Ellison's research also revealed that an age-old issue regarding tithing remains an ongoing debate: Should the 10-percent tithe be based on an individual's gross or net income? The studies indicate that churchgoers are pretty evenly split on the issue -- 48 percent on net, 52 percent on gross -- but that clergy heavily favor (72 percent to 28 percent) tithing based on gross income.

In a March 1998 article, the late Larry Burkett acknowledged there is confusion among believers over whether a tithe should be calculated before or after taxes and other deductions. But in typical fashion regarding tithing, the respected Christian financial guru himself was not confused.

"According to Proverbs 3:9-10, God has asked for our first fruits, which is the first and best of all that we receive," the co-founder of Crown Financial Ministries wrote. "Therefore, we should tithe from our gross, or total, income before taxes. When we calculate our tithes based on net income, we put the government ahead of God."

The Ellison Research studies will be published in the March/April edition of Facts & Trends magazine, which is published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. A press release on the surveys is available on the Ellison website.

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