September 2015
Rethinking Stewardship

The 2% Campaign

This article is also available in Spanish aquí.

Many churchgoers have heard of the biblical and spiritual tenet of tithing or giving/returning 10 percent to God through the church. In some contexts the tithe is called a pledge or promise because it is a pledge to God given to the church. The stewardship materials used by congregations may reference the biblical foundations of tithing. Even so, many congregational leaders do not know where or how to start working toward the biblical and spiritual practice of tithing. The proposal here is that you start with a minimum of 2 percent.

I consider the first barrier to contributing at the 2 percent level or higher, to be the lack of knowledge or awareness of the relationship between what a person or family puts in the offering plate or envelope and the financial resources of that same person or family. For most, if giving is based on what is in your wallet Sunday morning, it will not be tithing.

Almsgiving, offerings, tithes

The second barrier in progressing toward the biblical and spiritual practice of tithing has to do with a lack of understanding of the difference between almsgiving, offerings, and tithes.

The following illustration may make the difference more apparent. Look at the contents of your wallet; imagine that you have $57, two twenty dollar bills, one ten dollar bill, one five dollar bill, and two singles.

  1. Scenario A: Help: you are walking down the street and someone asks you for money and you feel moved to give that person money. Look at your wallet, how much would you give? In my experience, the majority of times it is the one dollar bill. That $1 will most likely not make a difference in your finances, but you feel good that you gave it away. This is almsgiving.
  2. Scenario B: Thanksgiving: You attend a special service at your church or are a visitor at another church. In thanksgiving for the service, the occasion, or the designation of the funds of the offering plate, you feel moved to contribute something. Look at your wallet, how much would you give? In my experience, I believe that it is very reasonable to think about giving $10, $20, $30 or even more. You are able to do so, because it is not a recurring expense, it is something that you do in response to the benefit or joy that you have received. I sometimes think of it in terms of entertainment – how much am I willing to spend on a movie, a concert, a museum, or one-time contributions to a nonprofit organization. For purposes of this illustration, let’s say that you felt moved to contribute $30. This is an offering.
  3. Scenario C: Pledge from the whole: You’ve had a great week, you gave alms to the needy and attended a special event, now it is Sunday morning and you look in your wallet and you decide to give and even tithe. You have $26 left in your wallet, so your tithe would be $2.60. But your income is not only $26. We can immediately see that what you carry in your wallet does not correlate with the total of your resources and the decision-making process that goes into giving. Furthermore, it would not look great for a person to dig into the offering plate to get change so they can give their $2.60 tithe. So in scenario C, you have thought about your weekly/monthly income and have come ready to church with your check for the amount of giving you have promised. This is a tithe or a pledge.

Determining giving level

Now that we are aware of the difference between almsgiving, offerings, and tithes, there are two more barriers to overcome.

  1. The churchgoer needs to be given the tools and information to determine what the best level of giving they can afford (and fulfill) is. This means educating about giving, but also providing them with worksheets (with examples) that may help in the determination.
  2. Even without knowing or asking how much people make, clergy and stewardship-committee members need to be bold in their asking and set the minimum levels of giving for the congregation.

So some tidbits may be helpful:

  • Why 2 percent? The average giving for mainline church Christians in the US is around 2 percent, so why not start by beating the average!
  • Those who come from Roman Catholic backgrounds are used to almsgiving, since there is not always a correlation between what they put in the plate and the functioning of the parish and the salaries of the clergy. In some ways this is the beauty of our Episcopal tradition: people can contribute to the very work and ministry of the congregation they attend; they literally have ownership through their giving.
  • The minimum Social Security/SSI benefit is about $900 per month. A tithe from this would be $90, 2 percent is $18 per month or between $4 and $4.50 per week. So if we use this most basic safety net in our society as a barometer, there should not be any pledges in our congregations that are less than $4 per week.

This chart shows giving amounts at 2 percent, 5 percent, and a full 10 percent tithe, based on monthly income:
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Once people are in the habit of starting from a minimum standard (2 percent), it is incumbent on those who are doing the asking to make sure to adjust year after year for at least a cost of living adjustment (COLA), and help everyone progress toward the biblical and spiritual practice of tithing.

In short, starting at 2 percent and growing to 10 percent is doable if we know the basis of our giving. Everyone in the congregation can do this; everyone can participate according to their means.

Carla E. Roland Guzmán is rector of the Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy, a bilingual congregation in New York City. She was ordained in the Diocese of Puerto Rico and has served for 12 years in the Diocese of New York. She currently serves as co-chair of the Faith, Family & Equality Latin@ Roundtable that develops materials for Latin@ congregations and families to understand and accept members of the LGBTQ Community.

Resources

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How much should I give worksheet

This article is part of the September 2015 Vestry Papers issue on Rethinking Stewardship