It is an indisputable fact that there are differences in giving habits between different generations. These differences are deep and not going away. If we expect giving in the ekklesia to continue along the line it has for the last fifty years, or even twenty years, we are seriously mistaken. We ignore these differences at our peril.
Perhaps some reading this might say: “What’s the big deal? Just teach God’s people to tithe and all financial problems would be solved.” Well, that assumes several things:
- It assumes that a mandatory tithe of 10% is legitimate for new covenant believers. It is not. People have suggested I write a book about tithing. In my opinion, someone else has already written the definitive and easy to read treatment on that topic. It is by Matthew Narramore: The Tithe: Low Realm, Obsolete and Defunct. If that book does not convince someone that the tithe has no place in the new covenant era, nothing I could say would convince otherwise.
- It assumes that there will be someone present in our churches to listen to us. The million-a-year who are leaving ministries and churches, and not being replaced, even with our own children,[i]are taking their money with them.
- It assumes, that those who might remain care about what we preach!
This is not a “tithe or no tithe” article. This about facing the fact that we are in the midst of a fundamental change, worldwide in scope, that will not be affected by “revival,” or “spiritual renewal,” or another (God forbid) “teaching series” on financial stewardship (Which is usually code for: Give us your tithe and more!). Folks aren’t listening anymore. Folks are leaving, and our Father is orchestrating the change, not the devil!
Each American generation grows up under a different set of economic, social, political, and environmental dynamics that impact how they seek to address the social issues of the day, or impact those causes that are important to them, through charitable giving and voluntary engagement.
Recent research on generational differences in charitable giving has discovered differences across generation groups (and many similarities, too). One important note is that some of the differences we observe now in giving by people of different generations could be related to their life stage rather than actual differences in perspective based on when they were born. For example, people who now do not own homes and have children might change their giving in the future, as they reach those stages, so that their giving in coming years will look like that of today’s home-owning parents.[ii]
Stage of life issues not withstanding, the generational differences in giving are profound, and need to be understood. While there is no hard and fast agreement as to how generations are defined and identified, for present purposes, I will use the following generally accepted parameters:
Up to 1945
|Silent Generation, Matures, Great Generation|
|Baby Boomers, Boomers|
|Generation X, Gen X|
|Generation Y, Millennials, Echo Boomers|
Thirty-four percent of Gen X give to religion,[iii] 16% of Millennials compared to 45.9 % of Boomers and 57.7% of Silent/Great Generation.[iv] Equippers, leaders, and influencers in today’s ekklesia must simply come to grips with these stark realities.
Romantically holding out for a future day of “revival” when God will magically change all this is out of touch with reality and presumes that God desires the status quo to continue or to be restored! My premise is that He does not, and these cultural trends are the faithful ministry of the Holy Spirit trying to get our attention, hoping that we might change our beliefs and practices to more fully and effectively realize His kingdom.
Obviously, Boomer and older generations are currently giving the lion’s share of total money donated in the United States. This is because they are at a point in their lives when they are motivated to give and, in most cases, they have more resources. It is also because they are frequent participants in worship services, therefore, total average giving (including giving to religion) is higher for these age groups than it is for younger people, who are less likely to attend services.[v]
This reality has also been documented in the United Kingdom.[vi]
- More than half of all donations to charity (52 per cent) now come from the over-60s, compared to just over one-third (35 per cent) thirty years ago.
- The over-60s are now more than twice as likely to give to charity as the under-30s. In the most recent year of our data (2010), we observe 32 per cent of the over-60s having given in the past fortnight [two week period], compared to 16 per cent of the under-30s. This compares to 29 per cent and 23 per cent respectively for the two age groups in 1980.
- Older people are typically more generous than younger, giving more as a share of their total spending. This ‘generosity gap’ has widened over the past three decades. The over-60s are now more than six times more generous than the under-30s compared to less than three times more generous, thirty years ago.
However, as the Boomer and older generations age, Generation X (now roughly thirty to forty-five) and the Millennial Generation (now roughly eighteen to thirty) will become increasingly important as donors for both religious and secular causes. Meeting the expectations and challenges of working with these generations will determine an organization’s[vii] success in the coming ten to twenty years.[viii]
At the most basic level, we must face the fact that the generation/s that has historically been the most generous with their money, and who because of their stage of life, have the most means to be generous, are aging, and frankly, dying off.
The generations coming behind them do not share their values in giving.
If you have any Proverbs-ant in you at all (See Proverbs 6:6), these facts should alarm you! At the present hour it is a simple demographic reality that many individuals in “senior” leadership positions within churches and ministries around the world are Boomers. The Silent Generation mentored them, and the Silent Generation was inclined to give because it was “right” and authority figures told them to do so. Boomers grew up both believing in, and benefiting from this giving ethos they inherited. I don’t know if I can say it more plainly than this: Those days are over. Generation X and Y simply are not, and will not, give under those presuppositions any more.
If collective efforts to proclaim and live out the kingdom of God here on earth have any financial future, we must abandon rule-based, authoritarian models of giving. We must understand what is happening and why it is happening. We must embrace the challenges from the millennial generation as sent from God as divine remediation to our current state, not as the fruit of “rebellion against God’s ways.” It is the former, not the latter. We must change our thinking, theology, and practices to a grace-based and new covenant foundation of giving that returns joy to givers because they have a stakeholder share in the outcome of their giving. It is simply loving to do so.
Like everything we live, breathe, believe, and practice as we walk with Jesus who is our new covenant, it’s not about rules. It’s about love. That includes rules about money and giving. If our giving is motivated by requirement and mandate rather than love, we should keep our money. Our money can’t buy God’s love, neither does God require and obligate us to give “our money” to prove our love for him. As Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul: “If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere” (1 Corinthians 13:3, The Message).
This blog is an excerpt from our book Money and the Church: A Better Way to Live and Give, available at www.stevecrosby.com
If I could only give a believer two books they would be The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford, and this book on money and the church by Steve Crosby. I firmly believe that in this new church/relational paradigm, if we truly want to see the Kingdom of God manifest here on Earth, we are going to have to change our entire view on finances. Money is, and has been, the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room. – Loren Rosser
[i] Depending on the source data, trends indicate that between 75-80% of our own children will leave the faith once they leave home, and will never return to anything remotely resembling what we call “church.”
[ii] The center of Philanthropy at Indiana University, Giving USA FoundationGiving USA spotlight, Issue 2, 2010.
[iii] Not my term, original article source.
[iv] The center of Philanthropy at Indiana University, Giving USA FoundationGiving USA spotlight, Issue 2, 2010.
[vi] Mind the Gap: The growing generational divide in charitable giving: a research paper. September 2012. University of Bristol, Charities Aid foundation
[vii] I do not care for the organizational language, but understand the necessity. I would say the premise remains for working with any group of people, “organized” or not.
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