Christianity produces generosity

The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that God loves a cheerful giver. But studies show that the best formula for cheerful giving turns out to be love for God. The American Bible Society recently released findings from their annual State of the Bible survey that interviewed participants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The study showed that practicing Christians are far more generous than the rest of the American population:

  • Americans who identify with a Christian tradition and attend church at least once a month are 40 percent more likely to give than those who do not identify with a Christian tradition.

  • Americans who attend church regularly are 75 percent more likely to donate than those who do not attend church.

  • Americans who read their Bibles regularly outside of a church service are 55 percent more likely to donate than those who don’t.

What’s interesting about the American Bible Society’s data is that the way local church involvement directly correlates to higher frequency of giving to charity. A full 87 percent of church attenders made donations to some church or charity while only 50 percent of non-church attenders gave. And the frequency of giving is not related to income. In fact, American Christians with lower incomes, who attend church regularly and read their Bibles frequently give a higher percentage of their income away.

This might come as a surprise to the critics of Christianity, who often accuse the church of hypocrisy and indifference toward the vulnerable, but the data shows that the more a person embraces Christianity, the more generous that person becomes. This tracks with the work of historians like Tom Holland, whose book Dominion chronicles the origins of major social movements in world history and points them back to the Christian church. It is Christianity that gave the world the moral vocabulary to see dignity in the poor and the change of heart that allows one to hold possessions lightly. As pastor Tim Keller articulated in a speech to the British Parliament, even the values by which some (often unfairly) criticize the church—universal human rights, poverty alleviation, etc—are values that came to society from the church.

This data set comes with a word for public officials, who might not recognize the power of local churches in meeting real human need in their communities. Some, like the newly announced Democratic candidate for governor in Texas, Beto O’Rourke, have called for removing the tax-exempt status of churches. Others have called for shutting down faith-based ministries like foster care and adoption services, simply because churches and Christians refuse to yield to the demands of the sexual revolution. But animus toward Christians only leaves the vulnerable more vulnerable, robbing society of its most effective bulwark against human suffering. In the name of “progress,” what gets tossed to the wayside are the very people whom progressivism desires to serve.

And yet there is also a word for the church here. While data shows Christians are the most charitable Americans, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Christians have no room to grow in our generosity. The most recent giving studies show that American Christians only give 2.5 percent of their income and only five percent tithe. While we are far more generous than the rest of the population, we are still far from living out the command of Jesus, who urged us to resist storing up treasures on earth, but to invest in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:19-20). Imagine how much more work could be done, both to share the good news of the gospel and to love our neighbors, if Christians further resisted the materialistic appeals of the age.

We might also find ourselves fulfilling the promise of Paul’s words. The State of the Bible survey also shows higher levels of happiness correspond to higher percentages of giving. It turns out the Apostle had a word for our hedonistic age. It really is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). More blessed for the Christian. More blessed for the nation.

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