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Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money
Oxford University Press / 2008 / Hardcover
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Are American Christians stingy? Statistics and surveys indicate that we contribute sparingly to religious and charitable causes---despite impassioned stewardship pleas from our pulpits. The authors examine how this trend undermines the work of struggling churches and ministries and analyze what factors make us begrudging givers. Includes practical implications and suggestions for increasing donations.
Passing the Plate shows that few American Christians donate generously to religious and charitable causes -- a parsimony that seriously undermines the work of churches and ministries. Far from the 10 percent of one's income that tithing requires, American Christians' financial giving typically amounts, by some measures, to less than one percent of annual earnings. And a startling one out of five self-identified Christians gives nothing at all.
This eye-opening book explores the reasons behind such ungenerous giving, the potential world-changing benefits of greater financial giving, and what can be done to improve matters. If American Christians gave more generously, say the authors, any number of worthy projects -- from the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS to the promotion of inter-religious understanding to the upgrading of world missions -- could be funded at astounding levels. Analyzing a wide range of social surveys and government and denominational statistical datasets and drawing on in-depth interviews with Christian pastors and church members in seven different states, the book identifies a crucial set of factors that appear to depress religious financial support -- among them the powerful allure of a mass-consumerist culture and its impact on Americans' priorities, parishioners' suspicions of waste and abuse by nonprofit administrators, clergy's hesitations to boldly ask for money, and the lack of structure and routine in the way most American Christians give away money. In their conclusion, the authors suggest practical steps that clergy and lay leaders might take to counteract these tendencies and better educate their congregations about the transformative effects of generous giving.
By illuminating the social and psychological forces that shape charitable giving, Passing the Plate is sure to spark a much-needed debate on a critical issue that is of much interest to church-goers, religious leaders, philanthropists, and social scientists.
Christian Smith is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. He is the coauthor, with Michael O. Emerson, of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford, 2000), which was named the 2001 Distinguished Book of the Year by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, which won a Christianity Today Book Award in 2006.
Michael O. Emerson is the Allyn R. and Gladys M. Cline Professor of Sociology and Founding Director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life at Rice University. In addition to Divided by Faith, his books include United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race, coauthored with Curtiss Paul DeYoung, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim.
Patricia Snell is Programs and Research Specialist for the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame.
Why is it that Christians in the world's most affluent nation give so little of their income to charity? This sociological study, based on extensive survey data and building on prior studies of Christian philanthropy, shows that American Christian groups typically give away only 1.5% to 2% percent of their income. Considering that this figure is based on self-reporting, the reality is probably even less. Catholics are the worst, with many Protestant groups in the middle and Mormons (whom this study regards as "non-Christian religious believers") at the top. The first two chapters lay out the problem of Americans' ungenerous behavior, while the third ventures explanations: it's not that Americans don't have the money, but that they spend it on luxuries and fail to perceive needs outside their own circles; also, churches are vague about expectations for giving. A fourth chapter delves into parishioners' and pastors' complex feelings about giving, while a stirring conclusion lays down the gauntlet for change. Although the primary audience will be academic, any pastor who has ever had to preach a stewardship sermon should also read this book. (Oct.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
"Superb. Urgent. Well researched but highly readable. This book is a powerful summons to use our abundance to bless others. A must-read." --Ronald J. Sider, President, Evangelicals for Social Action
"Americans are, supposedly, a generous people, and religiously active Americans are supposed to be among the most generous of the generous. These stereotypes are not entirely false, but sociologists Christian Smith and Michael Emerson want to register a dissent. Their patient and diligent research explores the troubling question why American Christians do not give MORE. Passing the Plate explores this unusually important subject with unusual depth, unusual clarity, and unusual insight." --Mark A. Noll, author of America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
"Financial giving to churches and charitable organizations has been neglected by scholarly researchers and remains poorly understood. With characteristic clarity and empirical precision, Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson have tackled one of the thorniest aspects of American Christians' behavior. I hope church leaders will read this fine book and find ways to incorporate its insights into their thinking about church finances. Scholars of religion and nonprofit organizations will benefit from it as well." --Robert Wuthnow, author of After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion
"They are clear in their presentation of their research and in the analysis of their conclusions. Seminary professors and leaders in church organizations might be well advised to read the excellent introduction first, and then pursue those chapters that present the authors' research and analysis." --Choice
"I am convinced that Passing the Plate is urgently important for the American church. Every pastor should read it and beg God for the courage to insist that his or her congregation deal directly and systemically with this topic in an ongoing way. Every seminary professor and church leader should read it and take its lessons to heart. And every informed Christian layperson should pray over this book, asking God for a biblical understanding of stewardship and the strength to act accordingly." --Books & Culture&R
"An outstanding work that should be read by anyone interested in Christian charitable giving. Its findings may surprise and perhaps even shock scholars and church leaders." --Sociology of Religion
"This book is a stunner... Smith, Emerson, and their colleagues have done outstanding work describing and analyzing important features of American Christianity in our time." --Church History
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