Is the Church a Charity?

One of the great things about personal finance blogs is that money touches almost every part of our lives, including our spiritual lives. Whether you regularly attend religious services, or even if you are an atheist, there is a sense of right and wrong, good and bad in all of us. This raises the question, how should we use the money we have to impact this world in a positive way? I intend to write about this subject each Sunday.

As a Christian (with an attitude, I might add), I’ve heard all my life that we should tithe 10% to the church. Putting aside what the Bible says about tithing (that’s for another post, perhaps), should we really be giving 10% of our gross income to the church? In the United States, bigger is better. We super-size everything from french fries to houses to SUVs. And we spend everything we make, and then some. The church in the United States today reflects these same tendencies. When a church nears its capacity, what does it do? It starts a building program, of course. I wonder if a pastor ever considered telling the congregation that some should start attending other churches of similar faith in the community that aren’t overflowing? Imagine the impact we could have on the world with the money saved. And in the past 5 to 10 years, mega-churches have sprouted that rival the modern day indoor mall. In these churches today you can:

  • order a frap from Starbucks
  • browse a Borders-like bookstore
  • enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at the restaurant
  • get your hair done

And the kids have it even better:

  • skateboard on an indoor half-pipe
  • shoot pool
  • play video games on 20-foot screens

Now, please don�t misunderstand me. It�s fine if folks want to contribute to a mega-church so they can enjoy all of these things. I�ve got no problem with that, any more than I have a problem with somebody wanting a nice home or car. And these mega-churches do reach a lot of people. We even attended a mega-church for awhile. But we�re just fooling ourselves if we think that giving 10% of our income to church so we can enjoy these luxuries is tithing or charitable giving. With all the hunger, disease and poverty in the world, should we feel good about ourselves for giving 10% of our income so we can attend church in luxury and style that even King Solomon would envy?

Rick Warren is the senior paster at Saddleback Church in California. In an interview, he responded to questions concerning the mythes about the mega-church. It’s an interview worth reading. One myth, according to Warren, is that mega-churches are a uniquely American phenomenon. He points out that the largest churches are not in the United States, and cites as an example Pastor Kumuyi’s church, Deeper Christian Life Ministry in Nigeria which reaches 120,000. Perhaps, but what is uniquely American is the luxury of our mega-churches. Here are pictures of Pastor Kumuyi’s church in Nigeria and Saddleback (can you tell which one is Saddleback?):

Dclm2
Saddleback3

Of course, the standard of living in the United States is significantly higher than Nigeria. But the question is, should we consider any donations above what would be required to maintain a modest church facility (even by U.S. standards), a tithe or charitable gift? And as one preacher (and a very good one, I might add) says after each of his radio ads–Not a sermon, just a thought.

Recently there have been a number of blog articles about tithing. They are all worth reading, and here are some of them:

Published or Updated: May 23, 2011
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. Most of the time an American (US) church is never a charity but a money making institution… Very few churches are actually do anything for the community…

  2. DR says:

    Make Money With Funds, let me first say that you have a great looking blog. What’s your secret? As for churches in America, I’m going to have to disagree with you. Having grown up in the church all my life, I believe that churches, on the whole, have a positive, meaningful impact on their communities. There are exceptions, of course. That said, as noted in my post, I do question how churches as a whole spend money in the U.S.

  3. JadeEJF says:

    Wow- thanks for posting all those links. My husband and I have been really turned off by megachurches, in part because of their moneymaking… bent, I guess? We went to a congregation in Illinois that was a lot smaller, and rented a gym, specifically so the church could give more money to missions and social justice programs. And for us, that was enough to really impress us. We’ve now moved, but we’ve happily found a similarly small church (40 people in Seattle!) that can use our finances, and who don’t feel the need to build a skateboard park. I love it!

  4. DR says:

    JadeEJF, we are now at a fairly modest church, too, which contributes significantly to missions and the community.

  5. Matt Gerrans says:

    I was hoping this little article would at least take a position on or try to answer the question in its title. It seems like you are saying “no,” but it would be a courageous to come out and answer the question more explicitly.

    I think it is pretty clear that donating money to a church is much less effective than giving directly to a real charity.

    • DR says:

      Matt, the point here is not that all donations to all churches are not charitable. Rather, that some churches have become more of a combination of rec center and shopping mall than church. I think contributions to churches that have not lost their focus are very effective.

  6. Chas says:

    I think a church is a business, although a business that does not charge money to keep itself open, rather it expects donations. Those donations are tax-deductible, but I’ve recently wondered why. They go to support the business, not charity. Whether the church is good for the community is not at issue. Compare it to a Karate School or Gymnastics School. Many of these do wonderful things for self-esteem and for the community. A Karate School in my town has 3 students go free (who otherwise could not afford to attend) and in return, they must work 2 days a month in the local soup kitchen. My conclusion is that tithing to a church is not charity, but rather supporting a local business – and these contributions should not be tax deductible any more than tuition at a gymnastics school should be deductible.

  7. Karen says:

    My parents attend the church you are referring to above. I have felt a check in my spirit about it maybe now I know why very sad. And I agree with the whole mega church I do not like them nor do I attend one. I attend a small size God worshipping church in which we support many many missionary’s in relation to our size I much prefer it to these mega churches and I agree it’s not charitable giving when your just tithing your money to make them bigger…much better and worthwhile things to give my money to..

  8. Varghese Mathew says:

    I wish to establish church and a school in a rural villages here and neighbour hood (Bombay Maharashtra India
    Looking for opportunity to get involved.

    Mathew

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