American church members may be getting more selfish as their incomes rise according to a recent survey of 31 denominations. Funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., Empty Tomb, Inc., a non-profit research and service organization in Champaign, Illinois, contrasted changes in per-member giving patterns with changes in U. S. per-capita disposable income. The report points out that although income after taxes and inflation increased 31 percent from 1968 to 1985, per-member giving as a percentage of disposable income was 8.5 percent less during that same period.
“People are objectively richer, but the wealth is not expanding the ministry of the church,” said Sylvia Ronsvalle, who founded Empty Tomb with her husband, John, in 1970. Their study further reports that most of the money donated by members to their churches stays within the local congregation. “We may be seeing an accommodation to lifestyle expectations among evangelicals that will rob them of their commitment to the church,” said Ronsvalle. According to the survey, 24 of the 31 denominations showed a decrease in giving as a percentage of disposable income.