Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Passing the Plate

A new book out from Oxford University Press: Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money, by sociologists of religion Christian Smith and Michael Emerson, with Patricia Snell.

Some blurbs:
"Americans are, supposedly, a generous people, and religiously active Americans are supposed to be among the most generous of the generous. These stereotypes are not entirely false, but sociologists Christian Smith and Michael Emerson want to register a dissent. Their patient and diligent research explores the troubling question why American Christians do not give MORE. Passing the Plate explores this unusually important subject with unusual depth, unusual clarity, and unusual insight."
--Mark A. Noll, author of America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

"Financial giving to churches and charitable organizations has been neglected by scholarly researchers and remains poorly understood. With characteristic clarity and empirical precision, Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson have tackled one of the thorniest aspects of American Christians' behavior. I hope church leaders will read this fine book and find ways to incorporate its insights into their thinking about church finances. Scholars of religion and nonprofit organizations will benefit from it as well." -
-Robert Wuthnow, author of After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion
Product Description
Passing the Plate shows that few American Christians donate generously to religious and charitable causes -- a parsimony that seriously undermines the work of churches and ministries. Far from the 10 percent of one's income that tithing requires, American Christians' financial giving typically amounts, by some measures, to less than one percent of annual earnings. And a startling one out of five self-identified Christians gives nothing at all.

This eye-opening book explores the reasons behind such ungenerous giving, the potential world-changing benefits of greater financial giving, and what can be done to improve matters. If American Christians gave more generously, say the authors, any number of worthy projects -- from the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS to the promotion of inter-religious understanding to the upgrading of world missions -- could be funded at astounding levels. Analyzing a wide range of social surveys and government and denominational statistical datasets and drawing on in-depth interviews with Christian pastors and church members in seven different states, the book identifies a crucial set of factors that appear to depress religious financial support -- among them the powerful allure of a mass-consumerist culture and its impact on Americans' priorities, parishioners' suspicions of waste and abuse by nonprofit administrators, clergy's hesitations to boldly ask for money, and the lack of structure and routine in the way most American Christians give away money. In their conclusion, the authors suggest practical steps that clergy and lay leaders might take to counteract these tendencies and better educate their congregations about the transformative effects of generous giving.

By illuminating the social and psychological forces that shape charitable giving, Passing the Plate is sure to spark a much-needed debate on a critical issue that is of much interest to church-goers, religious leaders, philanthropists, and social scientists.
HT: Tim Harrelson