Can the steward ship remain afloat?
March 15 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Can the steward ship remain afloat? | Friday, March 16, 2001

Friday, March 16, 2001

Can the steward ship remain afloat?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor Working folks are making (and spending) more money than ever, but giving away a smaller percentage of it - at least to churches. And churches are giving away less of what they receive - at least to denominations. That's cause for pause.

Students of stewardship trends have sounded the alarm for some time, noting that giving patterns among younger generations are falling far short of the example set by their grandparents.

According to the Church Stewardship Department at the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Christian Resources, 30-50 percent of church attenders have "blank giving records." That suggests that they either give nothing, or just drop a few dollars in the plate without using offering envelopes.

We often cite the truism that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work - and also give 80 percent of the money.

Churches could face a real crisis if that 20 percent begins to die out. Will others rise to meet the need? Howard Dayton, of Crown Ministries, says that for every "giving unit" over 65 years old that passes from the scene, five younger "giving units" are needed to replace them.

It doesn't take a nautical engineer to see holes in the hull of a ship with that kind of service record.

Research compiled by a charitable organization called "The Empty Tomb" suggests that individual giving among United States evangelicals dropped from 3.1 percent to 2.5 percent between 1968 and 1998. John Roberson, executive leader for resource development and promotion with the Baptist State Convention, estimates that N.C. Baptists currently give about 3 percent of their income.

That's a far cry from a tithe.

The denominational picture is hardly more promising. Cooperative Program giving across the SBC dropped from 9.03 percent to 6.35 percent from 1970 to 1999.

In North Carolina, giving to the cooperative missions budget has also declined, though more slowly, sliding from 7.48 percent in 1970 to 6.66 percent in 2000.

The ratio of blank giving records is lower for churches than for individuals, though still appreciable: 18.5 percent of BSC churches contributed nothing through the state convention in 2000.

Two government initiatives may impact giving in the coming year. If the national proposal to provide faith-based charitable groups with government funds goes forward, there may be even less of an incentive for some to contribute through their churches.

On the other hand, a related proposal to allow non-itemizers to deduct charitable contributions on their U.S. income tax could have a positive impact on giving patterns.

The whole concept of factoring in government and tax-related issues sticks in my craw, however.

Christian stewardship should not be based on whether taxpayers are paying the bills at the church food pantry or whether charitable giving is rewarded with a tax deduction.

If believers take the Bible seriously, they must know that stewardship is not an above-and-beyond type good work we do for extra credit. Stewardship is a natural outgrowth of who we are as God's people. We do it because it is the right thing to do.

As God has blessed us, so we are called to return a portion of those blessings as an acknowledgement that God is the source of all that we are and have.

The Old Testament guideline was a tithe - 10 percent - of our income. That's a reasonable starting place.

The New Testament focuses less on percentages and more on devotion: Jesus called us to surrender everything to Him. Members of the early church "had all things in common."

Tony Campolo sometimes asks listeners to imagine singing the chorus of "I Surrender All" by substituting "I surrender one-tenth, I surrender one-tenth. One-tenth to Jesus I surrender, I surrender one-tenth."

How sad it is when that parody is still more than triple the average Christian's offering to the Lord. Can we bear to sing, "I surrender three percent, I surrender three percent ..."?

If believers don't reverse course, the steward ship could be in big trouble.

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3/15/2001 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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