Church giving differs around the county

Christian church members gave their congregations less than 2.4 percent of their income in 2009, far below the biblical standard of 10 percent for tithing, a Christian research organization's latest report said.

Had those Christians maintained their level of giving from 1968 — when it was 3.1 percent of income — they would have contributed a total of $30.8 billion, or $7 billion more than they actually gave in 2009, the report said.

Had they given 10 percent of their income, the members would have given an additional $174 billion, which the report said "could have made a major impact on global need."

Empty Tomb Inc., an Illinois-based nonprofit research organization, bases its calculations on financial reports from more than two dozen Christian denominations, representing more than 100,000 congregations, both evangelical and mainline, said Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president.

The group's report, "The State of Church Giving through 2009," does not include donations by Catholic or Mormon congregations.

News reports that presidential candidate Mitt Romney donated $4 million to the Mormon Church in 2009 and 2010 underscored the practice of tithing.

Of six Sonoma County congregations surveyed by The Press Democrat, three call for 10 percent tithes and three set a lower standard for giving or leave it to members' discretion.

Dale Flowers, pastor of Santa Rosa's First Presbyterian Church, attributes the decline in church giving to a social shift rather than the recession.

"We are becoming more and more secular," said Flowers, whose 600-member congregation expects a 10 percent tithe. Secularization impacts "what people do with their money and lifestyle," he said.

Edward Viljoen, senior pastor at the Center for Spiritual Living, said he personally donates 10 percent of his income, calling that figure "a cultural benchmark."

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