Thursday, March 31, 2011

Do You Give Your Tithe At Church With A Tax Deduction In Mind?

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY

Do you donate more or less to your church knowing that it's tax deductible? If that income tax deduction went away, what then?

That's one of the concerns probed in a new survey of church giving. The third annual "State of the Plate" survey of 1,507 church pastors, staff and leaders tracks the impact of the economy on churches and church practices on financial integrity.

Among the findings:

  • Giving is up: 43% of churches saw increased giving in 2010, up from 36% in 2009
  • The decline has stabilized: 39% of churches said giving was down in 2010, 38% last year.
  • December offered a boost: Christmas-time generosity often puts church budgets over the top and most churches (64.6%) said that giving met or exceeded expectations.
  • Small churches -- those with under 250 in weekend attendance -- suffer more and these are where 80% of American churchgoers attend.

Matt Branaugh of Christianity Today International, one of three sponsors of the survey, ties giving to employment. Branaugh says:

As unemployment accelerated in 2008, we saw it in 2009 giving levels. Now unemployment has stabilized to some degree. I think that's helped.

Also influential, churches nationwide were coached this year in effective fund-raising and proper financial accounting practices. Church finance expert Brian Kluth and Dan Busby of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, co-sponsors of the survey, toured 13 cities talking about accountability and best practices.

The EFCA is leading a commission to look at changes in regulations for non-profit charities and churches -- and fretting about potential changes to tax laws. The survey asked about this with an alarming question:

If the charitable tax deduction were significantly reduced or eliminated, what impact do you feel this would have on the future giving at your church?

While nearly all (91%) said it would have an impact, only 30% thought it would be a significant impact.

Kluth acknowledges,

I don't think it's on the radar screen of a lot of churches. But reality is that it could affect our giving. If the tax deductibility went away, I think you'd see softer numbers in December although, from a spiritual perspective it should not matter."

But Dan Busby of the ECFA says 41% itemize their deductions and it's hard to imagine that cuts wouldn't dampen giving. At a press conference today, he told USA TODAY's Alicia McCarty,

Those who give even remotely generously are those that tend to itemize their deductions. Thus they are the ones that would be impacted... People don't give solely for tax reasons, but it does play a part.

Kluth concluded,

We need to encourage generosity not for the sake of the budget but for the faith journey.

THINK ABOUT IT: If you couldn't deduct your giving to church, would you still give? Would you give as much?

Read More From USA Today

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