February 25, 2010
Family Money Matters: A Look at Christian Household Finances
“State of the Plate” shows debt levels, giving patterns for families.
What really matters in an economy is not what the media says, but what people’s personal wallets say. As part of the second annual “State of the Plate,” 750 Christian households provided an inside look into their income, employment, debt, and giving/tithing.
I'm conducting this research with Christianity Today International’s Church Finance Today and Leadership journal. Based on preliminary results of this research, I've found that the average Christian family, though directly impacted by the economy, remains committed to faithful and generous giving to their church and ministries as a major priority.
Here's a closer look at four findings:
1) Income: The majority of families have either lost ground or remained flat financially this past year. For many years, most families saw their income increase. This is no longer the case as more and more families that completed the survey personally felt the effects of the sluggish economy:
- 33 percent of households said their incomes went down this past year.
- 43 percent of households saw no increase in their income.
- Only 23 percent of households saw their income increase.
2) Jobs: The negative effects of the economy are being felt in people’s homes and church. Almost everyone knows someone who has been negatively impacted by the economy. This financial pain has been felt in people’s immediate families, and everyone is mindful of other families in their church who are facing financial and employment struggles, too:
- 97 percent knew someone in their church who had lost a job in the past 12 months.
- 42 percent indicated they know people in their church who had to move away to find work.
- 33 percent of families had someone in their household whose job was negatively impacted by the economy.
- 30 percent know people personally who have lost their homes.
- 26 percent personally know people who declared bankruptcy.
3) Debt: Many people are actively working to carry as little debt as possible. A growing number of families are working on eliminating or avoiding growing indebtedness. Mortgages, car payments, and unpaid credit card balances are the most common forms of debt:
- Only 17 percent of households are 100 percent debt-free and 29 percent have no debt beyond their mortgage.
- 64 percent have mortgage payments.
- 36 percent have car payments.
- 31 percent have unpaid credit card balances (beyond 30 days old).
- 18 percent have medical bills.
- 18 percent have student loans.
- 14 percent have home equity loans.
- 12 percent have personal/family loans.
- 6 percent have retail/electronic loans.
- 3 percent have investment debt.
When asked how much it would take to be debt-free (except for a mortgage):
- 20 percent would need $10,000 or less to pay off their debts.
- 21 percent would need $10,000 to $50,000 to pay off their debts.
- 20 percent would need $50,000 to $100,000 or more to pay off their debts.
4) Giving/Tithing: Many Christians make giving a priority in their lives. While most people only give 1 percent to 3 percent of their income to charitable/church/religious causes, survey participants indicated their households made it a priority to be faithful and generous givers:
- 23 percent give under 10 percent.
- 18 percent give 10 percent.
- 51 percent give 10 percent to 20 percent.
- 8 percent give over 20 percent.
Among those who give 10 percent or more of their income, this spiritual practice and discipline began in their younger years:
- 24 percent started giving 10 percent or more in their growing up years at home.
- 27 percent started in their 20’s.
- 17 percent started in their 30’s.
- 15 percent started in their 40’s or older.
- 16 percent have never practiced tithing.
- 7 percent started tithing but have stopped.
When asked about who helped shape their Biblical view of finances, generosity, and giving, respondents said:
When asked about giving “inside” the church walls, respondents said:
- 78 percent give offerings to their church 1 to 4 times per month.
- 22 percent give offerings sporadically to their church.
- 93 percent have supported church missions giving/projects.
- 80 percent have supported benevolence collections.
- 69 percent have supported a building fund project.
- 62 percent have supported special collections for pastors/staff.
When asked about giving “outside” of the church walls, people said:
- Missionaries/mission agencies, 61 percent
- Short-term mission trips for people they know, 46 percent
- Crisis/relief/development/disasters, 43 percent
- Unemployed family they know in their church, 33 percent
- Local civic/community/cultural/sports causes, 28 percent
- Christian radio/TV stations or programs, 26 percent
- Denomination, 26 percent
- Homeless/beggars, 24 percent
- Evangelism ministries, 24 percent
- Youth/college/military ministries, 24 percent
- Christian schools/colleges/seminaries, 22 percent
- Rescue missions, 22 percent
- Child/student/orphan sponsorships, 21 percent
When asked “how” people give, respondents said:
- Check, 90 percent
- Cash, 75 percent
- Donated clothing/household, 62 percent
- Credit/Debit card transaction, 33 percent
- Online Giving, 33 percent
- Electronic Check Transfer, 23 percent
- Donations included in Will/Trust/Estate, 10 percent
- Donated vehicle, 9 percent
- Donated stock, 7 percent
- Donated Gifts-in-kind/Inventory/Equipment, 6 percent
When asked about wills/trusts/estate plans:
- 35 percent have a will that is up-to-date.
- 29 percent have a will that needs to be updated.
- 37 percent do not have a written will or estate plan.
- The majority of people surveyed do not have estate plans that included any charitable/church giving.
NOTE: Individuals and churches can still participate in the second annual “2010 State of the Plate,” which offers a survey for church leaders and a survey for families. Survey participants will receive free electronic resources, access to the full results, and an executive summary outlining graphs, charts, benchmarks, and trends.
Watch in March for a full final report covering the "State of the Plate" findings.