‘Tithing Challenge’ could be way to encourage cheerful, generous giving

‘Tithing Challenge’ could be way to encourage cheerful, generous giving

By Carrie Brown McWhorter
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Hesitant givers might find comfort in knowing they could ask for a refund of their offerings during financial hard times, but is a “money-back guarantee” on tithes really a way to encourage cheerful and generous giving?

The “90-day Tithing Challenge” attempts to motivate nontithers to increase their giving by providing a safety net of sorts. Participants in the challenge commit to give at least 10 percent of their income for three months. After three months, givers can ask for their money back — no questions asked — if they are “not convinced of God’s faithfulness” at the end of the challenge.

In June, Christianity Today reported that hundreds of churches, including nondenominational, Southern Baptist, Lutheran and United Methodist churches, have tried the tithing challenge, based on Malachi 3:10: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”

New tither requirement

According to Christianity Today, the global, digital Life.Church initiated the challenge in the late 1990s and claims that of the thousands who have participated, fewer than 1 percent have requested a refund.

“The Bible says that when we do this God will bless us, not just materially, but God blesses us in more ways than we can imagine,” Life.Church lead pastor Craig Groeschel told the magazine.

In most cases, challenge participants must agree to certain conditions, including that they be new tithers or pledge an amount above their current tithe, and refunds cannot be given for tithes given prior to the start of the challenge and refunds must be requested within 30 days after the ending date of the challenge.

Alleviate worries

Advocates of the challenge say the money-back guarantee fosters generous giving habits by alleviating some of the financial worries associated with tithing. A 2013 report on church giving found that the most common reasons churchgoing Christians don’t tithe is that they can’t afford it or they are concerned about debt.

These are real concerns for many families, said Draper Rogers, pastor of young families at Gardendale First Baptist Church in North Jefferson Baptist Association.

“I hear it a lot: ‘I want to give, but I’m barely making ends meet. I’m struggling.’ Or, ‘I hear what the church is saying, but I’m trying to keep my bills paid and food on the table.’ The challenge I leave with them is this: If you trust God, if you believe that the same power that rose Jesus from the grave is living inside you, don’t you think He can make a way in your finances?

“I encourage them to take their eyes off their finances and put their eyes on God,” Rogers said. “If He has called you to do it, focus on Him and He is going to guide you. He makes a way when there seems to be no way, and times like that build faith that will survive the fire.”

Brent Thompson, pastor of Heflin Baptist Church in Cleburne Baptist Association, shared concerns about churches offering money-back guarantees.

“It’s teaching people to trust the finite resources of man, not the infinite resources of God,” Thompson said. “It’s giving through the church, not to the church and sends the message, ‘If things don’t work out for you, you’ll get it back.’ That’s not really building disciples.”

Mature disciples practice biblical stewardship and the way to develop mature disciples is to teach biblical principles, including stewardship, said Bobby DuBois, associate executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM).

“God owns everything, not just the 10 percent we put in the envelope or offering plate,” DuBois said. “We are managers of God’s resources, and managers are accountable to the owner.”

“Our giving honors God by recognizing Him as the source of everything we have,” DuBois said. “Our giving also blesses the giver. We are encouraged in knowing that our stewardship of testimony, time, talent and treasure speaks of our devotion to God and our concern for others.”

Finally our giving blesses others by supporting church leaders, sending missionaries and strengthening the spread of the gospel by the local church, DuBois said.

Rogers, who has a background in the financial industry, adds that many church members don’t understand how churches operate financially. Unlike businesses, churches have no product to sell, so they run on tithes and offerings.

When the church communicates its vision clearly then shows how gifts are used to fulfill the mission, members see the church being what God has called it to be, and their resistance to giving sacrificially fades because they see their dollars making a difference, Rogers said.

For givers the time to decide what to give is not when the collection plate is passed, however.

“Our offering should come off the top when we’re setting the budget for the month — here’s what I’m going to give to God,” Rogers said. “Then everything else is going to work in there. It’s the same thing we do for house payments and car payments. Tithes and offering have got to be No. 1. That’s the real challenge.”

Points to ponder regarding offering refunds

  • A charitable contribution is a gift and as such, the donor has no legal right to ask for the money back. The church has no obligation to give back contributions that are undesignated, like those given to the general offering.
  • If contributions are designated for a specific project such as a building or a missions trip and the project is abandoned, a donor might have legal grounds to request those funds be returned.
  • Before refunding any gifts, the church should notify the donor requesting a refund that there may be tax consequences to the refund, including the need to file an amended tax return to remove a previously claimed deduction.
  • In situations where a church offers a refund of gifts or a giver requests their money back, each party should seek legal and financial advice before proceeding.

Source: Richard R. Hammar, Church Law and Tax Center, www.churchlawandtax.com