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Giving by Americans to Religion, Charity and Politics
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The portion of personal spending that Americans give in donations has nearly doubled in the last forty years, but the amount going to religion has dropped by about half. Those are the disturbing facts in long-term data released this week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and first published in the New York Times (Dec. 1, 2003, page C2).

In 1950, $700 of each $1,000 in personal expenditures went for basic life necessities such as food, housing and clothing. It is now down to $458, reflecting a significant increase in affluence for many Americans. Donations were not tracked by kind in 1950, but starting in 1960 contributions to religion were separated from contributions to secular nonprofits and political causes. Of the $16 per $1,000 of personal spending that went to donations in 1960, $11 went to religious organizations. In 2003, Americans are giving $29 of each $1,000 in personal spending to donations, but only $6 went to religion. 

Research by John and Sylvia Ronsvalle indicates that trends within the Seventh-day Adventist Church follow these national trends, although the level of giving among Adventists is much higher than average. These data reflect at least two realities. One is the enormous increase in the amounts spent on political campaigns, especially to purchase television spots. The other is the growing secularization of American life and marginalization of organized religion. The bottom line is that it is more and more difficult to raise the money needed for local ministries. 

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you think the members of our congregation tend to give a larger or smaller share of their income to the church and related causes than they did in the past?

2. Do you think the members of our congregation are giving more or less to secular charities and political causes in our community or nationally?

3. What are the implications for our local church and its ministries?

4. What could be done to turn this long-range trend around, at least among our local members?

New FACT Information, Center for Creative Ministry