By Pete Reuss
It is time to stop telling people to tithe.
Yes, you read that correctly. An obsession with the tithe has played a significant role in inhibiting generosity across the church.
Despite many years of talking about the importance of tithing, most families (possibly including your’s) are nowhere near it. As Mike Ward notes in his helpful book Abundance: Creating a Culture of Generosity, 90.4% of Christians do not tithe. Not only that, the median Protestant gives 0.62% of their income to a local congregation. The median is the one in the middle. Approximately half of the people give a higher percentage and approximately another half give a lower percentage. If your congregation is normal, about half of you give less than 0.62%. So much for inspiring people to tithe!
A Culture of Shame
Put yourself in the shoes of that typical family (and perhaps you can relate). With an income of $68,000, you give $421 to support your congregation’s ministry. As a percentage of income, you likely give more than half of your congregation, yet the message you hear regularly is that it’s not enough. A faithful, trusting Christian would give $6,800. That’s the message of the tithe.
You hear stories from people who give 10% of their income and what do you feel? Inspiration? Nope. Obviously, your faith life lacks something.
You never talk about generosity with your kids, because you don’t want to admit that you’re not doing it “right”. Your giving remains a shameful secret. Even if you could grow giving by a bit, it’d still be far from enough. Why even try?
A Cap on Giving
Talk of the tithe also hinders giving by those who faithfully hear the message and give 10%. That’s my story. I grew up in a pastor’s family and learned to tithe from the day I earned my first dollar. As I grew I unquestioningly tithed, finding it the faithful thing to do. Yet, one day at a stewardship conference a mentor couple shattered my world. They said, “We used to tithe and found that important. But one day we asked ourselves, ‘Why do we have to stop at 10%? There’s no rule that we can’t give more, is there?’”
Why indeed! I’d always treated 10% as a cap on my giving. I did what God asked. I could check the box. It limited my vision for and experience of generosity.
A Journey of Generosity
What if we set aside talk of a tithe and instead invited people into a journey of generosity?
We all walk this journey. For some, it just now begins as they give their first gift. Others have walked it for years. No matter where on the journey you find yourself, a path leads forward. A path to expanding generosity. A path to changing the world through the ministries we support. A path to life.
- If your journey of generosity led you to give $50 last year, perhaps God calls you to consider a dollar a day. That’s a 700% increase in giving—something to celebrate!
- If your journey of generosity led you to tithe last year, perhaps God calls you to consider growing to 11 or 12 percent. Just think of the difference it will make in the world.
- If you lost part of your income last year, perhaps God calls you to consider what that next step of your journey of generosity might look like. Might a reduction in giving be the faithful response?
- As you do estate planning, perhaps God calls you to consider how the disbursement of that estate can become another step on your journey of generosity.
As you walk your journey, you make a difference in the world. People experience the love of God through your ministry. It’s good for you. It impacts people’s lives.
For many, constantly hearing about the tithe leads to shame and obligation. A journey of generosity provides a path of joy and hope. Which one do you hear as Good News?
About the Author
An ELCA pastor, Pete Reuss, lives in Rochester, MN, called to serve through GSB Fundraising. He finds great joy in helping ministries expand their capacity to impact God’s world.