The key to keeping the spirit of the tithe alive in today’s church may be helping the congregation focus on God.
“Focus on God, rather than on what the church needs,” Mark Conyers said. That focus helps the congregation become more in tune with God and the ministry the Lord has for its members in the community.
Conyers, pastor of First Baptist Church of Savannah, Mo., sees more need among his congregation, especially among younger members, to give to a purpose or a cause, rather than to the church in general.
That need often leads the church to more ministry in the community. “We are seeing more people who want to do things rather than just give,” Conyers said. “It seems they want to do something short-term.”
That hands-on attitude sparked the Savannah church to establish a community garden and give away the produce. Members also support local, national and international mission efforts.
Sometimes generational differences within a congregation can hinder a deeper understanding of tithing. “I think there is less of a shared understanding of some things,” noted Tom Ogle, treasurer for First Baptist Church of California, Mo..
He agreed that younger members give to specific causes today, “whereas in the past it seemed people supported their church,” he said.
Church leaders also should focus on the abundance God provides, rather than on scarcity, Northern Seminary President Bill Shiell said. “Jesus said give everything to him. Ten percent sounds like a good deal.”
When believers question giving 10 percent of their earnings to God through the church, Shiell asks them why they cannot live on 90 percent. The early church practiced a “theology of abundance,” he explained. “That’s how the church impacted the kingdom” because believers were willing to give what God had provided for them.
The early church set aside funds and food over and above the tithe to care for believers and the community. They focused on what they had, rather than complaining about the resources they did not have, Shiell explained. By doing so, they were able to minister more fully and with compassion.
Ogle pointed to a story he once heard. A congregation planned to call a part-time pastor because members felt the church was too small to afford a full-time minister. If just 10 members tithed, the church could take care of the pastor, one candidate challenged.
“That story just points out how small the numbers are of people in our churches who tithe,” Ogle said. “If people … would tithe, they would see that they don’t have to be a big church to accomplish ministry.”
“Think about what would be possible if all families gave 10 percent,” Shiell stressed.
The three leaders see miscommunication about tithing and the congregation’s use of resources as a reason for the decline in tithing they have experienced.
Leaders should teach members that the tithe supports the church, Conyers believes. “Some people think it’s up to them to decide what to do with their tithe. But clearly God says bring the tithe into the storehouse, and we’ve always equated the church with the storehouse,” he said.
Churches may have to determine new ways to tie general church needs to the specific causes members want to support, Ogle noted. As a church treasurer for most of the past 20 years, he has seen designated gifts continue to increase, while undesignated giving as a percentage of giving has decreased.
Most churches rely on undesignated giving to cover general church expenses, such as electricity, water and curriculum.
Shiell stressed that church leaders need to be upfront with members about the congregation’s needs. “Leaders have to let people know. Be transparent about what’s needed and how their money will be spent. Be accountable,” he said.
Congregations also should “celebrate the lives changed and the needs that were met,” he added.
Then members grow in understanding and learn how to live in the theology of abundance.