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Barna Report Newly Raises an Old Question: How Should We Tithe?

A recent report by Barna Group has Christians revisiting the meaning of the traditional tithe. Revisiting the Tithe & Offering, produced in partnership with Generis and Gloo, is the latest release in The State of Generosity series and is the culmination of collected data after surveying 2,016 U.S. adults last November.

In the study, 99% of pastors claimed they fully understand tithing, yet, 36% of Christians admitted to being unfamiliar with the concept.

When we asked members of the subreddit forum r/TrueChristian why or why not they tithe, the replies confirmed the diverse perceptions of the traditional tithe:

“Tithing was food for the Levites.”

“What ‘storehouse’ would you take your tithe to?”

“Giving is good! Legalistically promoting the tithe as mandatory is wrong.”

“The priesthood was replaced by Jesus Christ Himself. He is the high priest. We are to give over our lives to Him. If we do that, He will convict us to give or to not give to a church organization.”

“By giving to the church you’re funding so many good things. Fellowship, community outreach, glorifying God. Give as much as you can!”

In the Barna report, 37% of all Christians said the amount they give varies, and 25% stated they do not give financially at all. Only 21% said they give 10% or more of their income. 

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As for practicing Christians, two in five practicing Christians tithe at least 10% of their yearly income (42%). 

While a more promising number, most practicing Christians give in less predictable or lower amounts. 

As for pastors, the study alludes that opinions on tithing vary. 

Most pastors stated they do not view giving outside the church as tithing, but 70% of them said tithing does not need to be monetary. Just 33% prefer the traditional 10% cut as a standard giving amount.

One in three favor the 10% traditional tithe, but only one in five believes members should give enough to where it is sacrificial or as much as they are willing.

Back in the subreddit thread, multiple explanations compared tithing and giving out of free will. A few shared references to Malachi 3:8-10 and Acts 2:44-45, and several replies advised looking to the heart or the gut to decide what to give and when.

Yet, according to an earlier study by Grey Matter and Infinity Concepts, Christians give less than they think. Half of the 13% of evangelicals who traditionally tithe give less than 1% of their annual income. 

The recent report reveals inconsistencies between pastoral and congregational understandings of giving. The new data unveils an important question: how should pastors interpret and appropriately articulate specific, biblical expectations of generosity to their congregations?

Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.