By Cynthia Woolever
The second largest group of U.S. churches, after Catholic parishes, consists of conservative Protestant congregations. Five of the top 10 largest denominations fit in the conservative Protestant category—Southern Baptist Convention (16 million adherents in more than 40,000 churches), Church of God in Christ (5.5 million adherents in more than 15,000 churches), National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. (5 million adherents in 9,000 churches), National Baptist Convention of America (3.5 million adherents in 2,500 churches), and Assemblies of God (2.9 million adherents in 12,000 churches). Many of these denominations, and individual congregations within those denominations, continue to grow numerically. To what extent do conservative Protestant worshipers invest in their local church?
An earlier post noted that the percentage of worshipers giving 10% or more of their income to the local church clearly distinguishes one church from another. We also reviewed our research about factors related to Catholic per-worshiper giving.
In the typical conservative Protestant church, more than four in ten worshipers (43%) report that they give 10% or more of their net income regularly to their local church. The percentage of conservative Protestant tithers (those who give at the 10% level) is significantly higher than the proportion of tithers in mainline Protestant churches (18%) or Catholic parishes (11%).
We used a statistical method—regression analysis—to look at the relative impact of multiple dynamics on church giving. We identified the relative importance or relative strength of individual factors—like weekly worship attendance—while filtering out the impact of other worshiper and organizational dynamics.
We found that some factors were “accelerators”—churches with these characteristics had higher percentages of tithers. While our focus is on values, three other features of conservative Protestant churches remain important even when we control for worshipers’ values.
The Accelerators in High-Percentage-Tithing Conservative Protestant Churches
More weekly attendees. In conservative Protestant churches 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 congregational 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 new attendees. In conservative Protestant churches, a new factor emerges as relevant for high-percentage giving. In churches with lots of people attending for one year or less, there is also a higher percentage of tithers overall. Perhaps in congregations where new and exciting things are happening, more new people are attracted to those positive changes. These new worshipers are the most enthusiastic about where the congregation is headed. Many conservative Protestant churches now emphasize tithing as one of the criteria for membership, which sets a high bar for commitment.
More male attendees. Surprisingly, in congregations where the percentage of male attendees is closer to the percentage of female attendees, the percentage of tithers rises. Male worshipers tend to come with their family rather than alone. When the whole household participates, a household decision to tithe is more of a possibility.
More conservative worshipers. More churches where more worshipers describe themselves as conservative on theological issues are high-percentage-tithing congregations. A belief in the biblical mandate to tithe is one component of a more conservative theological tradition.
Worshipers value the church’s focus on reaching the unchurched. When many worshipers share an outward focus—valuing the congregation’s efforts to reach those who do not currently attend church—the percentage of tithers in the church also climbs.
Worshipers value the church’s prayer ministry. In churches where structures and programs are in place to encourage prayer, the percentage of tithers tends to be higher. Learning to pray and praying as a spiritual practice enhance the spiritual life of the worshiper and congregation.
Worshipers value the church’s ministry with children and youth. Some churches put a lot of energy into their programs and outreach with children and youth. When churches make that a priority, worshipers are more willing to fund these efforts to grow tomorrow’s church leaders.
Many other variables are linked to high-percentage giving in conservative Protestant churches. Yet when all those factors are taken into account, what worshipers value provides significant clues. Worshipers in conservative Protestant churches exhibit a unique set of values that are linked to tithing and high-percentage giving.
In a future post, we’ll explore the values of mainline Protestant worshipers. Are mainline Protestant values different from conservative Protestant values? Yes. Does it matter for high-percentage giving? Yes! Stay tuned.