Church Offerings: A Lagging Indicator?

Are Present Giving Patterns A Lagging Indicator?

Lagging Indicators:  “A lagging indicator is an observable or measurable factor that changes some time after” another apparent correlated factor.

For instance, hospitalizations for COVID-19 are a lagging indicator of the infection rate.  It lags behind the infection rate.  A “lagging indicator” stands in contrast to a  “leading indicator.”   The number of hospitalizations on any particular day or week becomes a leading indicator of a shortage of beds and possible deaths.

It may be that present church offerings are a “lagging indicator” of a local church ministries’ financial stability. While present giving may be consistent with past giving patterns, they will take a dramatic fall in coming months. 

Past giving patterns do not guarantee future performance.

Rerouted: There will be those members who will become acquainted with other legitimate and good ministries worthy of their financial support. [1]  Some percentage of that which was typically given to the church may be used to support yet other new and worthy ministries.  Maybe this-or-that ministry has a greater need, or appears to be much more effective in what it accomplishes, or has shown itself to be more creative and productive in what it aims to accomplish, or . . . .

Distracted: There will be those members who must cut back on their giving – who were able to give more than 10% of their income before COVID-19, but now there are needs within the home, within the family, among the grown children, etc. which will demand such cuts.

Disillusioned: There will be those members who will have become “disillusioned” with their local church as they have lived and worked through COVID-19.  The church leadership hasn’t performed very well –”Is this COVID-19 just a long paid vacation for our church pastors and staff?  Maybe it is time to rethink what we are giving to support.  They may be staying, but not giving as they have in the past because they expected a much better overall response.

Voting Present: There will be those members who will be looking for a different church ministry, having become disappointed in and/or disenchanted with the way their leadership has handled, spoken about, addresses the many and varied crises of 2020.  They are just out looking and are still financially supporting the local church they may end up leaving.  When they actually leave, their giving will follow them.  “Giving” will be a lagging indicator of their dissatisfaction and absence while looking around.

Grace Not Law: There will be those members who are hoping that they will be able to continue to give, but it is looking more and more like that isn’t going to happen much longer.  The clock is ticking, and while they are giving10% of their income today, a hard decision is coming down the road as to whether they can keep up with giving what they have been giving much longer – “Remember, Pastor has been teaching against legalism! – “Tithing is part of the OT law, and tithing is not taught in the NT.”

Declining Income: There will be those whose income has dropped, and while they may still be giving the same amount as they always have, the reality of giving more than 10% of one’s income will become clear, and their giving will drop, while not in percent of income.

Had Enough: They have come to realize that they are just a number and/or a check. Whether they are there or not, there is no personal interest in them, their family, and/or their children. “The church doesn’t care about me …. I have come to believe that it never has as it turns out.” Whether it be due to the pastor’s inexperience, a lack of creativity, self-centeredness, or laziness, the pastor(s) have woefully failed to navigate the ship through this testing time. These weeks and months have just certified what I have been seeing over the years.

If or when such a financial drop occurs, that drop will not be due to what is happening at the time.  That drop was merely a lagging indicator of what was taking place months ago, what has been taking place long before the time of awareness and possible remedy.

If pastors or ministry leaders do not realize that the drop in giving is a lagging indicator, they will mistakenly focus on what is happening when the drop occurs or when it becomes acute.  They may make their evaluations and adjustments based on the financial drop’s present context, rather than looking back on what has been happening over the past months..

Result?  Another navigational mistake will be made by some pastors and church leaders as they try to address the financial storm they then find themselves experiencing, not realizing that the navigational decisions which needed to be made, needed to be made many months ago, long before “today.”  They will be making adjustments and changes which will not get them out of the storm.  Those changes in course had to be made long ago.  Their only course of action now is to try to push through the financial storm – which may last far longer than imagined – perhaps years – perhaps several years later when another “captain” steps on board and tries to navigate through it all, after the damage of the previous “captain” has taken its toll on the ship, its cargo, and passengers.

It may be the better part of wisdom for local churches across America to look ahead, down the financial road, and plan for such a potential drop in income.

A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself:
but the simple pass on, and are punished.
Proverbs 22:3; 27:12

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1. “Storehouse Tithing”:  There are those who teach “Storehouse Tithing or Giving” – Malachi 3:10.  They teach and believe that the “tithe” – the first 10% of income ought to be only given to the local church, and then anything above that (“offerings”) can be given to other ministry endeavors.

I am not advocating that God’s people should not give out of their income, and in my understanding of the Scriptures, giving 10% is a right and reasonable minimum for God’s people.  What I refuse to argue is that “Storehouse Tithing” is a biblical mandate for “the church.”  Unfortunately, for self-serving reasons, some pastors teach that position.

Interestingly, while some will teach that tithing is an O.T. practice and was part of the law (“Legalism!” ),  some still go on to teach that “Storehouse” giving is a biblical pattern for N.T. saints – that the “tithe” should go to only the local church.  What happened to “legalism.”

That is not to say that you should or should not give to support the local church ministry.  But it does mean that there is no biblical mandate for giving the first 10% of your income to the local church.

There are some good reasons for choosing NOT to give to your local church!  You may not realize it, but some ministries and churches are flush with cash and have excessive and unconscionable amounts of reserve in the bank. I know of some personally.

Other ministries abuse and misuse what is being given through terrible and repeated purchasing decisions, top-heavy administration cost, over-staffing, the multiplication and layering of ineffective staff and pastors, sloppy purchasing habits, etc.  I know of some personally!

Some ministries have leaders who have made unwise and foolish financial decisions, and that ministry has been forced to limit their ministry because of those terrible decisions.  Then, instead of removing such individuals from positions of financial authority and responsibility, they ask God’s people to dig them out of this-or-that crunch.  I know of some personally.

Some ministries give far too much financial authority to those in leadership, with little transparency or accountability to the membership of the church.  The financial reports are broad-brushed and little is actually known as to who is paid what, what was purchased, are funds co-mingled, who are and who are not the paid staff, etc. Far too much is covered and concealed from those who support the ministry.  I know of such ministries personally.

Some ministries allow the pastor to know, specifically or generally, the giving patterns of the people.  I have even personally heard a pastor state in a sermon that while he does not know what people give, yet he had asked the treasurer if the leaving of so-in-so from the church will make a difference to the ministry financially.  And she said, “No.”  Good reason not to give to that ministry!

Much more could be said about these various areas of financial concern! All are reason enough for some to purposefully chose to give to other ministries rather than the local church.

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Some churches may also teach “Faith Promise” giving for missions, which also has no biblical basis, but it does keep all the “tithes” going to the local church ministry.  Interesting, it protects the local church in that it doesn’t tie the survival of the various mission endeavors to the local church’s general income.  If the funds don’t come in to support the various mission endeavors, then they suffer, not the local church ministry – “sorry about that missionaries.”

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