tn-tithing-givingSelf-proclaimed “tithe hacker” Mike Holmes has a helpful piece at RELEVANT Magazine on how tithing could “change the world.” (Jordan Ballor offers some additional insights here.)

Holmes begins by observing that “tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a normal congregation” and that “Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per capita,” proceeding to ponder what might be accomplished if the church were to increase its giving to the typical 10 percent.

His projections are as follows:

  • $25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation and deaths from preventable diseases in five years.
  • $12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years.
  • $15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
  • $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work.
  • $100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.

Such broad hypothesizing can be helpful in offering a small glimpse into what we might call the economic potential of the church. But, in addition to noting the more obvious questions about whether $25 billion (or any amount) can actually “relieve global hunger” (etc.), I would simply emphasize that such estimates are small glimpses indeed. The divine impact of the tithe stretches well beyond the material, even as it pertains to the material.

Holmes rightly concludes that “giving is a heart issue, not a money issue.” But when the heart is transformed, so is the economic horizon. The impacts of increased giving on human needs and economic orders will not be likely to correspond according to our more accountant-driven assumptions and expectations. If one withdraws $25 billion from Generic Investment Pool Y and drops it into “solving world hunger,” that’s one thing. But if that $25 billion originates as a natural byproduct of obedient sacrifice among God’s people, that’s quite different.

There’s something about honoring the Lord with our wealth that leads to unforeseeable multiplication and abundance. Once we embrace the mystery of that, realizing that sacrifice unto the Lord opens doors to new levels of stewardship that transcend our preconceived material constraints, the bullet list gets a lot more interesting.

For before and beyond the basic allocation of this dollar to that need, the routine act of tithing has a unique way of putting our hearts in order and, in turn, uniting God’s people. As Ballor put it, “Giving can really mean the world to the recipient, and it is a significant spiritual exercise and discipline for the giver as well.” Generosity is a powerful thing. How much more when it is propelled primarily by the church?

Where lives are changed and relationships are redeemed, where the work of the church is empowered and God’s people are transformed and set free by the power of generosity, social and economic orders will correspond accordingly.


  • http://tithehacker.com/ Mike Holmes

    Thank you for the write up Joseph. I’m glad to see tithing and sacrificial giving are not outdated over here :)

  • Arthur Sido

    That all sounds lovely but the reality is that the vast majority of giving is used to perpetuate the functioning of a local religious organization. Certainly many churches and other local give large sums to mercy ministry work and evangelism but proportionally speaking take look at the budget of most local religious groups and you will see people giving to pay for a place for their own comfortable and convenient religious experience.

    Especially unhelpful is the subtle prosperity message of giving in the expectation of getting something back. If we are really concerned about the impact of giving we should be looking to shed staff and property held by religious groups that act as a huge drag on the impact of giving in the church and focus on more directly aiding those who are in need without filtering that giving through one or more religious groups.

    • Marc Vander Maas

      Valid point – I know that in my time as a deacon, we worked hard to ensure that the proportion of our church budget related to administration and facilities and the like was kept as low as possible. But it’s also true to note that if all Christians in American congregations gave as they should, the percentage of funds dedicated to administration and facilities and the like would plummet. So it’s not just a question of having nice, comfortable experiences – it’s a question of faithfulness and trust on the part of givers, something that I often lack myself.

      I’d also note that I think there’s a great difference between believing that God will bless our generosity and the message of the Prosperity Gospel. I don’t think Joseph is promoting the idea that if you give x amount to fix the pastor’s helicopter, God will give you that luxury automobile you’ve been wanting. I can say however that I’ve heard many stories of folks in my church who gave sacrificially

    • Marc Vander Maas

      Valid point – I know that in my time as a deacon, we worked hard to ensure that the proportion of our church budget related to administration and facilities and the like was kept as low as possible. But it’s also true to note that if all Christians in American congregations gave as they should, the percentage of funds dedicated to administration and facilities and the like would plummet. So it’s not just a question of prioritizing nice, comfortable experiences – it’s a question of faithfulness and trust on the part of givers, something that I often lack myself.

      I’d also note that I think there’s a great difference between believing that God will bless our generosity and the message of the Prosperity Gospel. I don’t think Joseph is promoting the idea that if you give x amount to fix the pastor’s helicopter, God will give you that luxury automobile you’ve been wanting. I can say however that I’ve heard many stories of folks in my church who gave sacrificially without expectation of return and found themselves blessed abundantly in ways that they never would have expected – sometimes financially, and sometimes in other ways. Of course we need to oppose the distortion of the gospel that the Prosperity Gospel contains, but we also shouldn’t discount the fact that God is faithful in blessing those who give.

      Regardless, thanks for your perspective.

  • RogerMcKinney

    “tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a normal congregation”

    Children often make up a large percentage of the typical congregation and of course they won’t tithe. What we need is a percentage of working age adults in a church who tithe.

    “Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per capita,”

    Again, that includes a lot of children who don’t work and unemployed adults.And it doesn’t include charitable giving to organizations outside the church.

    Also, keep in mind that God instituted the tithe in ancient Israel in which the people paid no taxes at all because there was no state. Today, the state takes about 45% of our income, which leaves much less income to pay a tithe from. A lot of studies show the inverse correlation between taxes and charitable giving.

    The tithe was an OT religious law, like those governing sacrifices and festivals, which Christ fulfilled and Christians aren’t obligated to follow. Paul never mentioned the tithe, but encouraged Christians to give out of a cheerful heart.

    I think Holmes underestimates the size of the problems he lists, too, except for the estimate for sending missionaries. But even if he is right on his estimates, is the best way to help the world’s poor making them dependents of US Christians? What about dignity through work? So far the only way large numbers of the poor have been helped through providing them with better jobs is freer markets.