VENTURA, Calif. (The Barna Group) - While theologians debate whether or not the practice of tithing - donating 10 percent (or more) of one's income to churches and charitable groups - is a biblical responsibility of Christians, Americans have pretty much made up their minds on the subject.
Their views are discernible through their behavior. The giving patterns of Americans are described in new research released by The Barna Group, based on an annual tracking survey conducted by the firm regarding religious behaviors and beliefs. The results of the new research can be compared with outcomes from prior years to follow the trend line.
Tithing in 2007
Whether they believe in the principle of tithing or not, few Americans give away that much money. In 2007, the research revealed that just 5 percent of adults tithed.
Not surprisingly, some population groups were more likely than others to have given away at least 10 percent of their income. Among the most generous segments were evangelicals (24% of whom tithed); conservatives (12 percent); people who had prayed, read the Bible and attended a church service during the past week (12 percent); charismatic or Pentecostal Christians (11 percent); and registered Republicans (10 percent).
Several groups also stood out as highly unlikely to tithe: people under the age of 25, atheists and agnostics, single adults who have never been married, liberals, and downscale adults. One percent or less of the people in each of those segments tithed in 2007.
Among all born again adults, 9 percent contributed one-tenth or more of their income. The study also showed that Protestants were four times as likely to tithe as were Catholics (8 percent versus 2 percent, respectively).
The percentage of adults who tithe has stayed constant since the turn of the decade, falling in the 5-to-7 percent range. The Barna tracking reported that the proportion of adults who tithed was 7 percent in 2006 and 2005; 5 percent in 2004 and 2003; 6 percent in 2002; and 5 percent in 2001.
In 2007, 84 percent of all adults donated some money to churches or non-profit organizations. That figure has also remained consistent in recent years.
The median amount of money donated during 2007 was $400; the mean amount was $1,308. Those averages are higher than was revealed earlier in this decade, but represent a decline from the previous year. (The mean sum of donations per person in 2006 was $1,348.)
The Barna study pointed out that one-third of all adults (34 percent) gave away $1,000 or more during 2007. Nearly one-fifth (18 percent) had donated $100 or less.
Almost two-thirds of the public (64 percent) donated some money to a church, synagogue or other place of worship. The median amount donated to those religious centers was $101; the mean amount was $883. Those figures were up slightly from the previous year.
In all, one-quarter of the people who gave any money to religious centers (25 percent) donated at least $1,000.
This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group with a random sample of 1,006 adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older, in January 2008. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.