How much to contribute when they pass the collection plate in church?
March 25, 2010 11:25 AM   Subscribe

How much do regular church-goers donate, when they pass the collection plate? Any statistics available, (ideally by denomination and demographic), or maybe that would all just be guesswork? This recent question was helpful, but not quite the answer.

Asked for a friend of mine from Asia, where apparently it's common knowledge, unlike in America where many donate discreetly with a check inside the little envelopes. She gives $20 every Sunday at a Presbyterian church where she's a member of the choir, but not actually a member of the church, at least not yet. My own direct experience ranges from my Methodist father's 10% tithing, to my own very sporadic attendance where I drop in $1, maybe $5 on Christmas; which seems way too low to many -- so what is the suggested donation?

(Related question, maybe impossible to ignore in this discussion -- what percentage never give anything? Personal observation -- many church-goers just pass the plate.)
posted by Rash to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, we are SUPPOSED to toss in ten percent (on the gross, not net.) I know there are supposed to be stats out there re the percentage of church members who tithe versus those that do not, but honestly I'm wondering how that could be tabulated without people knowing folk's salaries and giving habits.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:37 AM on March 25, 2010

I grew up in a church that, while very conservative, didn't believe tithing was required. My mom kicked in around $20 every Sunday. I saw mainly $20s, $10s, and some $5s, $1s, and a lot of change in the collection plate. I don't recall seeing many checks, $50s, or $100s.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:42 AM on March 25, 2010

The actual contents of the collection plate may be misleading as a clue to churchgoers' donation habits; many churches have online donation systems now, and a lot of people may choose to donate in one big sum at the end of the year (for accounting purposes) or to split their religious contributions between their home church and other charities associated with their denomination. Because of this, I don't know that there's any sort of (socially) "expected" weekly donation at services, although many Christian denominations still encourage their members to try to approach the 10% tithe overall.
posted by Bardolph at 11:54 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

what percentage never give anything? Personal observation -- many church-goers just pass the plate.

Where I am, many parishoners use automatic withdrawal from their bank accounts or Visa/Mastercard, so they wouldn't necessarily put anything in the basket (other than maybe a blank envelope).
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:55 AM on March 25, 2010

FWIW, tithing was explained to us (at least in the church to which we belong) like so: 5% to the church, 5% to other area charities. Usually the kids help pick these.

Beyond that, I'm not sure it's possible to know on the whole. The weekly bulletin usually has a quick rundown on current state of the monthly operating expenses and where we are in meeting them. Stuff related to the school is an entirely separate deal (as it should be IMHO). Charitably speaking, eyeballing the plate may not be the best way to estimate: many of the offerings in our church are in envelopes, and other folks may send stuff in via other means.

I have heard ofchurches that will automatically debit members' accounts, though I've never been any place where it's happened.

As the whole idea is to return (with some level of sacrifice) the 'first fruits' of ones labors to the Church, only your friend really knows the answer to this.
posted by jquinby at 11:55 AM on March 25, 2010

Data from one particular denomination, the Christian Reformed Church:
"Among other things, the survey found that the median percentage of household income given to the CRC (not including Christian education tuition) is 6.1 percent. Just 21.9 percent of respondents gave 10 percent or more of their income to the church. Source

Re: Passing the plate
Many people donate via check on a monthly basic and not through the collection plate. Often times collection plate offerings are for particular ministries like a food bank or christian school.
posted by pseudonick at 12:10 PM on March 25, 2010

mormons' give 10% of gross, plus fast offerings. this is done privately, not with a collection plate.

this part of the tithing wiki is interesting to discuss things like is the tithe part of the modern christian church (or rather, should it be) and if the collection plate is specifically forbidden by the new testament.
posted by nadawi at 12:20 PM on March 25, 2010

The tithe ("tenth") is supposed to be of your first fruits, recognizing that everything is a gift in the first place. The beatitude about being "poor in spirit" means that we recognize that nothing is truly our own and all comes from God. YMMV about how seriously various Christian denominations take the beatitudes, though.

The tithe encomapsses church and charitable giving combined. The distribution between the two depends on your church's culture and your role in it. In the spirit of "first fruits," our household uses automatic weekly withdrawals. We see our church as our extended family, so we want to be involved --- head, heart, hands, and wallet. Our rule of thumb is that church should be more important than TV, so contribute more to your church than you pay for TV each month. But that's us.

If you need stewardship data, that's what God created the Barna Research Group for.
posted by cross_impact at 12:25 PM on March 25, 2010

My parents, as long as I can remember, donate 15% of their gross, plus every Sunday they hand a $10 bill to each of my nieces and nephew to also toss in the basket as it passes. I know from helping my father count up the basket at the end of church when I was younger (like, ~15 years ago), a lot of people put checks into sealed envelopes, but that was also in the golden age of the checkbook, so I figure a lot of people do online tithing now.
posted by banannafish at 12:27 PM on March 25, 2010

The Southern Baptists that I know tithe 10% consistently as long as they can afford it. On top of that, my grandfather gave $10,000 to his church when they were building a rec center.
posted by kimdog at 12:30 PM on March 25, 2010

I am the treasurer for a Quaker meeting with about 50 recorded members but a higher number of regular attenders. In this fiscal year so far, starting last July 1:

43 individuals or households have made at least one contribution. Contributions total $35,705, so of those contributing, the mean is $830, or about $100 per month (I haven't recorded March contributions yet). However, there is tremendous variation; total contributions have varied from as low as a $25 one-time contribution to one individual who has given $4500 so far this year. There are people who make regular monthly contributions, people who give quarterly, people who give annually, and people who give from time to time. We get big spikes in contributions in December, as people make final contributions before the tax deadline, and in June, before our fiscal year ends. Most people who give, give reliably, and then there is another subset of people who do not give money at all.

Some things that may make it different for Quakers than other churches, so not sure how applicable this is to your question:

1. We don't make recommendations about how much people should give, or ordinarily engage in fundraising. We have no notion of tithing. We are very big on reminding people that giving financially is only one way of supporting the meeting and that we value the other ways just as much. In other words, Quakers notoriously suck at raising funds.

2. We don't have a collection plate that is passed. We do have a little box people can put money in but we don't normally remind people about it at worship. It is a very minor part of our income; maybe $20 a week ends up in there.
posted by not that girl at 12:33 PM on March 25, 2010

I am a member of a small southern baptist church in northern california. One of the jobs I have volunteered for is counting the weekly offering. For our church, we have an average weekly attendance of about 20 or so...30 or more on a good day. We typically bring in a couple grand on the first Sunday of the month (people have paychecks) and throughout the rest of the month we have 6 or 8 hundred or so. There are 3-4 people that donate 300 or 600 every month....and some that only give pocket change.

The specific information about who gave how much is kept confidential, so that there is no preferential treatment or anything for the people who give more. In all honesty though, there are only about 4 people in the church that are keeping it afloat.

Hope this helps.
posted by AltReality at 12:45 PM on March 25, 2010

I've been responsible for collecting offerings at a church, and while there I took an interest in how this sort of thing works more generally.

A few points:

1) The fact that most people pass the plate on a given Sunday does not mean that they aren't giving. Most Americans get paid every two weeks, and since most people who are serious about actually tithing relate their giving to their income, they'll only put something in there every other week or once a month. In my experience, the number of people who give every week is far smaller than those who contribute bi-weekly or monthly, and the number of people who use cash is far smaller than those who use checks. But passing the plate won't even get you a second look in most churches; it's what most people do at least half the time anyways.

2) Some people, like myself, never actually put anything in the plate, because setting up the church as one of your monthly bills via online banking is a lot less hassle than writing a check/hitting the ATM before church.

3) The average national giving rate is something like 2-3% of people's income. That doesn't capture giving to non-ecclesiastical non-profits, which makes up a huge chunk of American charitable giving, but it's nowhere near the 10% that most people have in mind when they hear "tithe." Some churches obviously do a lot better than others, but for American churches as a whole, that's about what we're looking at. And the numbers aren't going up, either.

4) In most churches, about two-thirds of the giving is contributed by one-third or less of the people, but this does not necessarily correlate with said people's income, as 10% of a $50,000 income is the same thing as 5% of a $100,000 income. The poor and middle class are frequently more generous on a percentage basis than those who make six-figures and up.

5) The suggested donation is "Whatever you care to give." Unlike many other areas, this is the one spending area which almost all Christian traditions consider to have moral overtones. Where your heart is, etc. But oddly enough, this is one issue which almost all American churches are, for one reason or another, really uncomfortable talking about.* As far as causes, the scandals of the televangelists almost certainly have something to do with this uncomfortableness, as churches in other parts of the world don't seem to have the same hangups, but Americans are in general just weird about money compared to other cultures, so it's probably not limited to that. More cynically speaking, asserting some authority over what people do with their money is pretty demanding, and most of American Christianity, evangelical and otherwise, is not okay with that.

6) Many individual congregations budgets include a significant chunk for missions and benevolance, anywhere from 10-30% of the total. Some churches break parts of this out in a separate giving category, others don't.

*The mandatory tithe imposed by the Mormon leadership is, rightly or wrongly, actually a talking point used by many Protestant denominations attempting to distance themselves from Mormonism.
posted by valkyryn at 12:55 PM on March 25, 2010

I'm a UU (Unitarian Universalist), and our church supports itself primarily through pledge income (83%). People can choose to pay any number of ways, including automatic deduction from an account (or charged to a credit card) - but they have to explicitly give us permission for those.
A few years ago, we changed our Sunday plate collection so that any loose cash collected goes to a designated, monthly charity (selected - via votes - in our annual congregational meeting). People can also donate money to the church, via an envelope or designated check.
We found that we've raised a nice amount of money for local charities, and our donations have also gone up steadily.
It's very hard to say how much any one person gives on a Sunday - there are too many variables (the main one being average attendance); our average pledge is around $900.
posted by dbmcd at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I give 10% . Latter day saint. Always every year.
posted by lakerk at 1:01 PM on March 25, 2010

My experience in going to a lot of different churches (mostly to gig at Easter/Christmas services): there are quite a few people who don't contribute on a weekly basis, in cash (and I've never seen anything more than a rare $20 in collection basket- most people who contribute cash seem to kick in <>
I only go to church when I'm getting paid to do so, so I never contribute to the plate.

Not to derail, but to add to nadawi's comment, just because it's something people outside the church don't usually know about and I think is kind of interesting: Mormons contribute 10% of their gross privately AND then have to make an appointment with their bishop (pastor equivalent) at the end of each year to settle up. You are asked directly in a face-to-face meeting if you have contributed a "true and honest tithe" and shown a record of your contributions for the year to compare to your own recollections- they don't make you bring tax records or anything (or at least they didn't when I was going to church as a minor), but you do have to have at least one conversation a year about your finances with the person in charge.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:11 PM on March 25, 2010

my less than sign messed that up nicely:

*seem to kick in less than $10 or so. Many people who don't contribute seem to be the most connected and active members of the church community, however, so I have always assumed that they have some sort of regular non-cash deal set up- it seems that would be a lot simpler and tidier for tax purposes.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:15 PM on March 25, 2010

The Church of England recently published its financial statistics for 2007. The information you want can be found in the table headed Unrestricted direct and other giving to PCCs 2007 (PCC = Parochial Church Council, i.e. the governing body of the parish), in the column headed 'Direct giving per week per Electoral Roll member'. This shows that the average churchgoer gave £6.10 (about $9-10) per week.

The table headed Combined unrestricted and restricted tax-efficient planned giving to PCCs 2007 gives you the figures for 'planned giving' via the Gift Aid scheme, which enables churches to reclaim tax on donations. This is probably a better guide to what would be considered an 'appropriate' amount to give, and it shows that the average, per person, donated through the Gift Aid scheme was £9.28 (about $13-14) per week. In London it was £16.15 (about $23-24) per week, reflecting the fact that London churchgoers tend to be wealthier.

The press release accompanying the figures states: 'Our givers on average donate more than three per cent of their incomes to the Church .. However, this remains short of the five per cent of disposable income recommended again by the General Synod in the summer of this year.'
posted by verstegan at 1:59 PM on March 25, 2010

> but you do have to have at least one conversation a year about your finances with the person in charge.

"Have to" being totally up to the person in question to sign up on the little appointment list near the Bishop's office. Not all do. Many forget, many don't care, etc. Many are there to receive acknowledgement that they can hold on to for tax-deduction purposes later.

I'm in an LDS bishopric, and I count tithing, and while I'm pretty sure this question is mostly just about churches with collection plates, it seems like 10% is pretty common across the board.

People in the LDS church who do pay regularly usually pay slightly more than 10% because "fast offerings" (sort of a local donation to help the poor) are in a separate category from tithing.

When I'm visiting a congregation of another church that passes a collection plate, it seems like the collection plate is such a small part of the overall donation process that nobody in the room really cares what you put in it (or don't).
posted by circular at 2:21 PM on March 25, 2010

You can put in a $5 with 2 $1's underneath so people can't see what notes they are, could be anything so you're safe! If you attend the same church for a while they will come to you with envelopes and try to get you to commit to a certain amount per month - don't do it! Say that you have an unsteady income so cannot plan on regular amounts, but will give what you can on the plate each week, or volunteer your time to help set up or bake instead. Don't get locked into the envelopes! If you do they will ask what happened if you miss a month, and you will feel really crappy despite having a good reason.
posted by meepmeow at 9:07 PM on March 25, 2010

I count collections at an Episcopal church in FL about once a month. Donations range from $5 up to $1,000. I'd say the bulk of donations run between $10 and $25. I think the most important thing is to give whatever you think is right for YOU, without regard for the norm. Kind of a combination of what's you can afford and what's in your heart.
posted by psc1860 at 8:00 PM on March 26, 2010

« Older Which mouse shall I place in my house...and laptop...   |   Why does my VLC player only play one DVD? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.