Why Fewer People Give to Church

Why Fewer People Give to Church

There might be accidental reasons you are reading this. However, we’re hoping it’s because someone you know—perhaps a congregant in your church—thinks you should. That is why they took the time to share it with you.

We’ll make it worth that time.

The Biblical Way to Give

Let’s imagine a hypothetical, shall we? It’s 30 BC. You’re standing outside the Temple of Jerusalem. It’s a very crowded place. You watch as a man with a gray beard and colorful robe steps up to the offering box and unloads heaps of gold and silver coins. After him, a drab-looking woman drops two mites. Clink, clink. Off to the side, some dusty fellow is pointing at the woman and making a comment to His companions.

You might recognize this story from Luke 21. While there’s loads of theological material here, my question for you is where was the offering box?

You will note it was placed outside the Temple in a public space, where it could be seen by everybody. Anyone could give at any time. It was probably common for someone passing through to drop a coin impulsively. After all, there was no curtain, no password, and no line to sign. The offering box was the very picture of easy access.

Obviously, as the story goes, this meant it could be exploited by rich men to make public displays of their wealth and exuberance. But it also meant that people like the widow could practice real generosity. The point is, the model permitted all people—not just the rich—to freely give, and even to do so together.

Like many companies, Pushpay began with an idea—an idea in the mind of Eliot Crowther while he was trying to make a payment on his phone and wondering why it wasn’t far easier. With the help of co-founder Chris Heaslip, this initial idea grew into a concept for a world-class commerce exchange to handle consumer transactions with ease, speed, and efficiency—without the hassle of logins or bank account numbers.

But they didn’t stop there. The folks at Pushpay thought, “Say, what if a church had its own custom church app experience?” A church app essentially converts the phone into an offering box you carry in your pocket. Not only is it simple and easy to use, but it is the simplest and easiest way to give.

Like the offering boxes of ancient Jerusalem, the Pushpay vision wants to declutter all the obstacles between a person and an act of worshipful generosity.

Pushpay’s Daring Belief

Let’s get back to the Temple of Jerusalem. Now, let’s say the offering box was put at the end of a maze. Clearly, the lengths people would be willing to go just to make an offering would be a testament to their commitment, but is that the model the Bible gives?

Just the opposite, the ancient model seems to prioritize accessibility and simplicity. This is because, in those days, when someone practiced charity (whether to the church, the beggar in the street, etc.), they believed they were giving something to God as well as to their neighbor (Matt. 25:40). So why test people further by making giving difficult? Why stand between a person and an act of worship to God? That would be like slapping down someone’s hands after they lifted them to pray, shouting, “No! It shouldn’t be that simple!”

Professor Gary Anderson, describing giving practices in the ancient world, explains that there was “a deeper human desire to know and believe that the world is a place formed and guided by charity…Charity, in short, is not just a good deed, but it’s a declaration of belief about the world and about the God who created it.” In other words, if a generous God rules the universe, then in a sense generosity rules the universe.

That is Pushpay’s belief. And if people believed that, how could they not be generous?

Pushpay’s Vision

The Pushpay Vision begins with an assumption—the assumption that people actually do believe in generosity. They share our belief.

One of Pushpay’s products is a custom church app experience. While it happens to lead the space in creating apps that make it easier for people to give, even a very good app can’t make anyone generous—not any more than owning a hammer can make someone a craftsman. It’s just a tool. The Pushpay vision only works if the inclination to give is already present. All we do is equip people to act on it.

I can sense your disbelief. Clearly, if people wanted to give, then they would give. They have the means, after all. What could possibly be stopping them? In fact, you might further object, doesn’t research indicate the opposite? Isn’t church giving in decline? It seems people are less willing to give than ever.

Obviously, you can’t make anyone give. Churchgoers do it as an act of worship and to support the ministry of the church. And if the people don’t give, then the pastor goes unpaid, the buildings never get built, and the missionaries stay home. What’s a church leader to do except pray, preach, disciple, minister….and wait for the electricity to go off?

It’s true that only 10–15 percent of church members give on a regular basis, and they account for 50–80 percent of all church funding. The Pareto Principle (i.e., the 80-20 rule) is alive and well. Still, the Pushpay vision dares to believe it isn’t the inclination to give that has changed: It is how people give.

What do we mean by that?

The Mobile Revolution

In the ancient world, you gave in an offering box. In the 1900s, the offering plate rose to prominence, along with the practice of tithing. Checks soon became as commonplace as cash. Then, in the late-20th century, digital means of giving would explode with the popularization of personal computers and internet. These are all different tools to accomplish the same goal.

But for the past decade or so, people have relied less and less on traditional means of commerce. Nobody carries checks anymore (most Millennials have never even written one!), and there are fewer wallets with cash in them than without. So, where is commerce being conducted? How do people carry their money around these days?

The answer is their mobile devices.

Just last Christmas, 70 percent of all Amazon purchases were made from cellphones. People prefer their phones to their computers to shop and socialize. And the best part is they can do it anywhere, anytime.

Now, what if you eliminated every giving option from your congregation except the offering box (which you would place in the traditional style: In front of your church and without signage)? What would happen? If nothing else, you could expect a crushing decline in giving.
Why?

It isn’t that an offering box magically makes people more reluctant to give. The inclination is still there. However, the inclination has to be married to a giving model that makes intuitive sense to the giver. Otherwise, we institue models that thwart the desire to give.

Again, the Pushpay vision believes that people already want to give. We just have to make it easy. Sticking to customary models of giving, such as the offering plate or online giving, is like planting your offering box in a maze: It needlessly complicates a process that could (and should) be much simpler. That’s why, at Pushpay, we don’t stop by making mobile giving an option. We deliberately work with churches to converge their entire giving and engagement solution on the versatility and convenience of the mobile device.

So, what’s the result?

When the churches downloaded and effectively implemented the Pushpay app, they saw an increase in giving upwards of 30 percent. Of that increase, nearly 5 percent was from new givers.

“We were having a difficult time engaging people with our current online giving system,” reports Dennis Cummins, pastor of Experience Church. “After we implemented Pushpay, we received over a 1,000 percent increase. I had to re-run the numbers because it was so astonishing.”

The numbers are in, and they vindicate our belief. Despite the declines in giving, we have proof that people still want to give. They just needed to be shown how in a manner that corresponded with their established financial habits.

The Pushpay vision is a vision of hope. We believe that people are more generous and more caring than they have the opportunity to show.

Blake Adams
Editor at Pushpay

Blake Adams is an editor for the Pushpay blog and former educator. His work has appeared in several publications, including Salvo Magazine, WORLD Magazine, and Mere Orthodoxy. He lives with his wife in Seattle, WA. You can follow him on his blog, Tarrypin.