Recent study asks: Can volunteering time at church replace tithing?

Recent study asks: Can volunteering time at church replace tithing?

Is it OK to give volunteer time to the church instead of putting money in the offering plate? Are the two — time and finances — interchangeable?

According to a recent Barna study, pastors and church members have different opinions. Nearly 70 percent of pastors say they disagree strongly with the idea that volunteer time can take the place of financial giving.

But only 10 percent of Christians as a whole say they disagree strongly with the statement that it is OK for a church member “who volunteers extensively not to give financially.”

Large disparity

When the people who “somewhat disagree” are added in, those numbers only go up somewhat — to more than 80 percent of pastors and 20 percent of Christians.

It’s a large disparity between the two groups, but the Barna study says the data shows that pastors themselves might be somewhat responsible for the confusion.

Research showed that only 39 percent of pastors reported speaking from the pulpit at least once a month about tithing or giving. But 62 percent of them said they did speak at least that often about volunteering.

“So, by their own estimates, pastors talk about volunteering much more often than they talk about financial giving,” the Barna study says. “Thus, it’s no surprise that at least some of their congregants believe serving is an acceptable substitute for tithing.”

But Barna says pastors shouldn’t decide too quickly to cut back on talking about volunteer service — the study also notes that Christians who give most are most likely to report that they have volunteered recently.

“Those who give more are most likely to spend time serving others — but they are also more likely to say generosity is a frequent topic of conversation in their family,” the Barna report said.

The report, “The Generosity Gap,” was done in partnership with Thrivent Financial, a not-for-profit financial services organization headquartered in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Views of generosity

In addition to dealing with the topic of volunteering versus financial giving, the report studied differences in views of generosity. Pastors and other Christians have similar views on what makes an act generous, but their views are not identical, the study shows.

“In general, most agree that generosity comes from an unselfish, sincere spirit, not from a sense of obligation or of self-interest,” Barna reported.

But church leaders are more likely to “believe generosity is both an inward attitude and an outward discipline,” and other Christians are more likely to “have a slightly more romantic view of giving” and feel that
it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision.

‘A response’

About 66 percent of pastors believe that “generosity is always a response to Christ’s love,” but only 47 percent of all Christians feel that way. (TAB)