A Sobering Fact About Generosity

I study the issue of generosity a good bit. Since my own ministry depends upon the generosity of Christians I need to understand how to respond to issues that relate to charitable giving. Thus, I confess that I was a bit surprised when I learned a few weeks ago that the year-end IRS statistics about giving in America reveal that the poorest in our society are in fact the most generous givers.

Each year IRS compiles statistics about household giving. The most recent figures, for 2003, show the following:

1. Households with adjusted gross incomes of $10,000 to $15,000 gave 11.6 percent to charity.
2. Households with incomes of $50,000 to $55,000 gave 4 percent.
3. Households with incomes of $200,000 to $500,000 gave only 2.5 percent.

Regardless of what you how you break down giving among other income levels what is most surprising is that the families in the lowest income levels are the ones that gave a tithe or more, on average.

The second amazing thing I noted in this data was that there is an inverse relationship between charity and wealth. When adjusted gross income reaches the $100,000 level personal giving remains at only 2.5 percent. And this percentage holds all the way up to incomes of $10 million or more!

Since tax rates on the rich are less than they were a few years ago this is even more surprising. And because the wealthy have dividend and capital gains income tax breaks you might expect their giving to actually rise. Not so.

A clear benefit of giving, besides the promised ones in the Scriptures to Christians, is the discipline that charity brings to your spending habits. I for one intend to encourage wealthy Christians to give more since the discipline required for them to take this action will do them, and others, great good. I also believe wealthy Christians have no basis for hoarding their incredible wealth and must be shown how to plan and to give intelligently and much more sacrificially. John Wesley’s advice is still good: “Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” A virtual revival in ministry would take place if well-to-do Christians learned this principle and put it into practice like the poorest people in America. 

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