October 18, 2014

​Study: Church Giving Won’t Rise Unless Pastors Embrace Jesus’ Teachings on the Poor

©2014 Religion News Service

Christian researchers tracking decades
of decline in charitable giving say the trend will not be reversed until
pastors challenge congregants to embrace Jesus’ teachings on
the poor.

But that, says Sylvia Ronsvalle, one of the
authors of the annual Empty Tomb reports on Christian giving, will
take a different kind of pastor than the counselors and comforters that
seminaries and divinity schools have trained for ministry.

Seminaries instead need to school future clergy
on the affluence of American congregations, and remind church
members of “God’s agenda to love a hurting world,” the report said.

“The State of Church Giving through 2012: What
are Christian Seminaries and Intellectuals Thinking — or Are They?” was issued
by Empty Tomb, an Illinois-based nonprofit that
tracks the percentage of church members’ income that they give to
their congregation.

“Pastors are not being prepared to effectively
pastor their people within an age of affluence,” said Ronsvalle, who wrote the
report with her husband, John L. Ronsvalle.

“People are richer,” she said. “They have a lot
more to spend on. If the church is not giving them a real challenge, the church
becomes less important.”

In 2012, the latest year for which the numbers
are available, church giving dropped to 2.2 percent of member’s
incomes, the lowest percentage since 1968. Using statistics from international
agencies and pictures of malnourished infants, the Ronsvalles seek to
illustrate the significant impact an uptick in giving from American churchgoers
could make in the lives of the world’s poor.

Most of the poorest in the U.S. have more
than the poor abroad, they write. They cite a study showing that
an American with an annual income of $34,000 falls within the world’s richest 1

“From a global perspective, the vast majority of
Christians in the U.S. are more on the ‘rich’ spectrum in Bible categories,”
and pastors need to let their congregants know that, the Ronsvalle couple

Alleviating the suffering of the poor is
“a key aspect of the gospel,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, dean and
president of Virginia Theological Seminary. But taking the seminaries to task
for shortfalls in Christian charity overlooks the complexity of the
problem and the realities of the culture “that are much bigger than any
classroom experience,” said the Episcopal priest.

Particularly since 9/11 and in light of the
recent recession, Americans find it difficult to give more generously, Markham
said. “Even though we’re richer than ever before, we’re more insecure than ever
before,” and a greater emphasis on the issue in seminaries would have
only a limited impact, he said.