Factors in Church Giving

The average Australian household spends a total of $1236.28 every week. The major items are housing ($223.14), food and drink ($204.20), and transport ($192.87). The household also spends $161.44 on recreation, including holidays, $32.35 on alcoholic drinks (not included in the total for food and drink), and $12.57 on tobacco. On average, Australian households give $2.97 to churches or other religious organisations and $4.26 to charities each week (Household Expenditure Survey 2009-10).

Many denominations are worried about their income. As numbers of attenders shrink in most denominations, so finances also shrink. It is also likely that, in some places, finances are shrinking faster than attendances. In other words, people who are attending are giving less to their churches.

Some researchers have argued that people will be ‘free-riders’ if they can be. In other words, if there are no controls on giving, they will not give, but will enjoy the benefits of the church without contributing. The challenge for the church is to minimise ‘free-riding’. This is much easier to do in small churches than in larger churches. In larger churches, it is more likely that the non-contributing person will not be noticed (Whitehead 2010, p.641).

Another way of minimising ‘free-riding’ is to have high costs of joining, or, in other words, to raise the standards for belonging to the group. Those churches which have stricter expectations of members, or which demand a long period of teaching before admitting members, or which demand a very public sign of commitment such as adult baptism, minimise ‘free-riding’.

Rather than small group membership monitoring giving, it seems more likely that involvement in small groups leads to a higher level of ownership of the life of the organisation. In a small group, people are not anonymous. In face-to-face contact, they feel a part, not only of the small group, but also of the larger group. As their involvement in the small group is noted by other members, they feel some responsibility in their involvement, and a greater sense of ownership for the life of the whole organisation.

Many people will hesitate to join a church in which there are high demands on them, financially, in terms of time, and in other ways. Even the development of a small group culture in a church where everyone is expected to be part of a small group may discourage some from attending at all. On the other hand, it will encourage others to contribute more to the life of the church.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 4, Pages 16-18

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