By Cynthia Woolever
The largest single group of U.S. churches continues to be those affiliated with the Catholic Church, which reports over 68 million adherents in more than 19,000 parishes. The sheer number of these parishes and their worshipers makes tracking their giving patterns worthwhile.
We continue to be interested in factors related to individual church donations. In an earlier post, we commented on our finding that the percentage of worshipers giving 10% of more of their income to the local church clearly distinguishes one church from another.
In the typical parish, about one in ten Catholic worshipers report that they give 10% or more of their net income regularly to the local parish. (Note: this figure does not include contributions to the parish school.) The percentage of Catholic tithers (those who give at the 10% level) is significantly lower than the proportion of tithers in Protestant churches. Four out of ten conservative Protestant worshipers and two out of ten mainline Protestant worshipers report that they’re tithers.
Often our explorations consider the relationship between only two factors—for example, the relationship between average per-worshiper donations and faith group or denomination. But we know that understanding giving is more complex and requires examining multiple factors. We used a statistical method—regression analysis—to look at the relative impact of multiple dynamics on church giving. Regression analysis allows us to isolate the importance or relative strength of a single factor—like weekly worship attendance—while filtering out the impact of other things.
Based on our statistical analyses of giving patterns among Catholic parishes, we found that some factors were “accelerators”—churches with these characteristics had higher percentages of tithers. While our focus is on values, two other features of Catholic parishes remain important even when we control for worshipers’ values.
The Accelerators in High-Percentage-Tithing Catholic Parishes
More weekly attendees. In parishes where a larger proportion of worshipers attend weekly or more often, the percentage of tithers is also higher. Previous research shows that individuals who participate more in church services and activities, also tend to be a regular financial contributors. At the parish level, increasing the engagement level of worshipers also increases the revenue generated by individual donations. Keep in mind that even when other seemingly important church factors are taken into account, this association remains.
More conservative worshipers. Parishes where a higher percentage of worshipers describe themselves as conservative on theological issues are also high-percentage-tithing parishes. A belief in the biblical mandate to tithe is one component of a more conservative theological tradition.
Worshipers value the parish’s outward focus. When many worshipers in the parish have an outward focus—seeking to meet the needs of individuals and the community—the percentage of tithers in the parish also climbs. We asked worshipers what they most valued about their parish. In churches where a high percentage of worshipers identified the community care or social justice emphasis of their parish, a higher proportion of worshipers tithed. Similarly, in parishes where more worshipers identified “reaching those who do not attend church” as something they valued about their church, the percentage of tithers was higher.
Many variables are linked to high percentage giving in Catholic parishes. Yet when all of those factors are taken into account, what worshipers value provides significant clues. In parishes where many worshipers care about others in the local community and value reaching out to individuals and families, people in the pew support their values with their money.
In future posts, we’ll explore the values of Protestant worshipers—both conservative and mainline. Do Protestant values also play a role in high-percentage giving? Yes! Stay tuned.