Money, Life Energy, and the “Faith Factor” In Congregational Giving

One by one, as we decide to change money energy from greed, fear, lack and suffering, into love, joy, abundance, and goodwill, our own circumstances will change for the better….Abundance will begin to flow through our lives. Money will simply be there. (Barbara Wilder)

Let’s face it. Money is a complexity in our lives. We exchange hours of our Life Energy for it in our work for wages. We’d love to receive more of it. We wish we could save enough to feel secure. Sometimes we are reluctant to give it away, but we feel good about it when we do. We can be exhilarated or guilty about spending it, from one moment to the next. Money is a driving force in our lives, like it or not.

Money is energy in form and function, which, at its best, flows through our lives and our relationships, transforming as it goes. Early on, we learn about the practical uses and benefits of having money as the means of providing food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. As we move through our lives we experience giving and generosity as ways to express our deepest-held values. It is the very act of giving that makes money sacred.

As a result of his research, Arthur C. Brooks has describes the “virtuous cycle” charitable giving and increased income and the mutual reinforcement of giving, health, happiness, and prosperity. Charitable giving is pleasurable for the giver. It gives life meaning. People who engage in charitable giving and voluntarism tend to have higher incomes than those who do neither. For example, in data collected for the year 2000, Brooks found that a charitable dollar is associated with $4.35 in extra income. Of the extra income, $3.75 could be directly attributed to the dollar given to the charity.

More and more, people are looking for ways to make a positive difference with their money. In particular, younger generations want their monetary giving to have the greatest impact possible in their wider communities. This is the appeal of offering plate give-away programs in which people contribute to their church and extend their giving to worthy causes beyond.

Paul Schervish of the Center for Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College has differentiated between demand-side giving and supply-side giving. Demand-side giving has been the expectation historically, focusing on the duty and obligation of giving. In contrast, supply-side giving is rooted in the giver’s identity as a philanthropist whose gifts change lives and bring about positive outcomes. This emerging trend involves the giver’s investment of money and life energy as an expression of their faith identity.

Let’s take a closer look at the role of the faith community in giving patterns…

  • Charitable contributions in the United States topped $290 Billion in 2010,
  • Giving to religion the largest share at thirty-five percent (35%) to total dollars.
  • Of the total dollars, over fifty percent (51.1%) are given by people who are regular church attenders and describe themselves as “strong” or “very strong” in their faith.
  • Simply belonging to a congregation matters, since those who do are more likely to give to the congregation, to secular causes (66%), and to volunteer (44%).

Research clearly indicates the “faith factor” is a significant influence in charitable giving, and giving in congregations. Congregations that reported an increase in attendance over the past five years were most likely to report an increase in their annual fundraising. Another good example of why active participation in religious community and regular attendance to services makes a difference in giving levels and overall financial health.

Congregation leaders must find ways to nurture the giver’s need to give as a spiritual practice, rather than emphasizing the congregation’s need to fund its annual budget. This is a delicate balancing act for congregations trying to strengthen their financial picture. However, in light of the research, encouraging giving in faith communities as beneficial to the giver and the congregation is important to remember.

The first step is to understand how people relate to money at a personal level and engage the conversation in our congregations. The next is to structure our budgets and giving programs around our mission and ministries, emphasizing the difference the congregation makes in the world and how lives are changed for the better. In follow up to these steps, it is important to explicitly connect the individual’s faith identity and values to their financial choices and giving to support their faith community. It is through the alchemy of money, life energy, and faith identity that abundance is realized.

Links for Further Exploration of Money, Life, and Spiritual Practice:

Links to the Giving Data and Research:

Giving USA Foundation:

State of the Plate 2011 report by Brian Kluth:

2009 Congregational Economic Impact Study, Alban Institute and Lake Institute:

Empty Tomb, Inc. Giving Research:

Books referenced for this blog post:

Brooks, Arthur C. Who Really Cares. Basic Books. 2006.

Wilder, Barbara. Money is Love: Reconnecting to the Sacred Origins of Money. Wild Ox Press. 1999.