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Our Dilemma of Shrinking Generosity

Shrinking Generosity

About a year ago, I was talking with a respected colleague at a conference.  We were at a stewardship conference, remarking that we were not hearing teaching about stewardship in our respective churches. Had we been so intent in the past decade that it no longer seemed necessary to discuss? Yet giving has been down and seems more transactional and needs-based – less an expression of faith – than ever.

“Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost.”    St. Ignatius of Loyola 

More recently, the first of a series of articles analyzing the impact of Covid-19 on giving dropped a bomb about Catholic Parish Giving. The number of donors giving to Catholic parishes has remained down 16% from pre-pandemic levels. The positive news is that overall, giving is up and holding at pre-pandemic levels. The risk is that this is hardly sustainable with a decreasing number of donors.

What is happening?

I did a separate review of ACST data aggregated from 9700 churches across denominations to understand the giving trends by age group. The data is sobering. Overall, giving is down 13% since last year and down 24% since 2019.  The graph below shows the trend by age group for each year since 2019. The biggest decline is from one of the groups who are traditionally the most generous donors. The 50-64 age group gave 26% less to their churches compared to 2019 and 12% less than in 2021. Giving from members over 64 years old is down 24% since 2019 and 16% since last year. One hopeful change is that giving from 18-29 year-olds increased slightly from 2021, although they account for a small percentage of the overall total (see pie chart).

In the pie chart, we see that those members who are over 64 account for half of the total giving for all age groups!  29% of givers ages 50-64. Overall percentages changed slightly from 2019, with the most notable from those 18-29, increasing from 2.5% to 3% of total giving and 50-64, decreasing from 30% to 29%.

This data includes Catholic parishes, so it is fair to conclude that the shrinking number of donors is also an aging population, which magnifies the problem for the future of our churches. 

Returning to a sense of Generosity

There is no quick solution to address this trend. Our societal drift and changes to the family structure are strong forces that challenge the perceived importance of the role of the church. Yet ACST American Beliefs research indicates all age groups are searching for trusted relationships and community. It appears that in the noise of daily life and the promotion of “self-care,” we need to get back to the source: “Deus Caritas Est.”  God Is Love.

As Bishop Kemme, Diocese of Wichita said: “There is nothing we have; nothing; that is not a gift. Everything we are and have is founded in the loving generosity of the Creator. When we know this, not just in our minds but in the depths of our hearts, then life takes on a whole new meaning. Then we have a different perspective about our time or our talents or our treasure, our bodies, our minds, hearts. Everything that we are and everything that we have – takes on a completely different perspective.”

By reflecting on this amazing gift to us and recognizing that we are also given, we can only respond with an outpouring of gratitude and generosity

What next?

I talked with Tom Sonni, CEO of Greater Mission, about the dilemma. Tom sees the need for us to return to the core stewardship message, a message of gratitude for God’s generosity. In recent conversations, we discussed what it means to “Give Like Jesus.”

We can certainly benefit from reflecting on Jesus as our model. Tom outlined 5 ideas, informed by scripture, which we can use as meditations that inspire our own generosity:

  1. Jesus knew that he himself was given by his Father
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Jn 3:16
Part 1 of Give Like Jesus
  1. Jesus gave sacrificially, the Lamb of God who gave his life for us
“While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’” Mk 14:22-24

Part 2 of Give Like Jesus (to come)

  1. Jesus Gave with Great Trust, Knowing he was loved.
“This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” Jn 10:17 

Part 3 of Give Like Jesus (to come)

  1. Jesus never lost sight of his ultimate mission.
“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” Jn 4:34 

Part 4 of Give Like Jesus (to come)

  1. Jesus gave us a share in his mission of love to the world
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jn 20:21 

Part 5 of Give Like Jesus (to come)

Generosity and its overall decline, its need for communication, and its important stewardship role are one of the acute issues facing the church today.

To help your church in this area, here are some key resources:

For over 43 years, ACS Technologies has been helping churches address and overcome the obstacles they face, as they strive to Build the Kingdom. Staff administration was first. Then broader community engagement. Today we’re helping with the urgent issue of cultural intelligence. People have left  the church, there is a decline in generosity, and generational attitudes towards the church differ immensely. 

Our expertise through understanding the data and in-depth research is revealing and empowering to churches of all sizes who want to validate their efforts today to secure their promise of tomorrow. We walk alongside you. Enabling everyone in your church with a personalized ministry environment of tools, support and expertise so they can make actionable  ministry decisions. This whole church approach focused on each role within each ministry goal is powerfully unique and eternally invaluable. 

Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive with extensive sales, product marketing, strategy and leadership experience in supporting faith organizations. Terry’s professional experience includes organizational leadership, corporate development and growth, consulting with and training church leaders, and leading strategic and priority planning for churches and dioceses. He currently serves on the advisory board for the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine FL, as cantor at St. Andrew parish in Myrtle Beach, SC. and recently as Chairman of the Finance Council at St. Mary the Virgin Mother parish in Hartsville, SC.

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