When Propensity Meets Capacity
To give away money is an easy matter and within anyone’s power, but to decide to whom
to give it, how much to give, when to give, and to give for the right motive and in the right
way, is neither in everyone’s power nor an easy matter. Hence, it is that such excellence
is rare, praiseworthy, and noble. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Chapter 9
Recently a church asked me to help determine their congregation’s capacity for giving. Here is
my simple answer: any congregation’s capacity to give is at least 10% (the tithe) of its annual income.
I usually estimate a church’s congregation-wide annual income as the median income within a 5-
mile radius of the church times the number of giving units in the church. (So that I do not inadvertently
overestimate congregational income, I usually work with 90 percent of this number.)
Ten percent of total congregational income is the tithe and is our best scripturally based estimate of
congregational capacity to give. God proposed the tithe as a target for giving to support the
church with other charitable giving to be over and above that amount. (Our denomination’s stance is
that “tithing is the minimum goal of giving” (Book of Discipline ¶630.5e) and “God’s standard of giving” (¶304.1c)).
In Wisconsin, our actual giving averages 2.9%. We are spending much of God’s share on ourselves.
How much could our churches accomplish if we tithed and had more than three times as much in
giving? In my talks with United Methodists around the state, I hear a lot of anxiety about the state of our
churches, often because they are experiencing budget shortfalls. What they often propose is cutting
more costs or getting new people to pay for the church.
Yet, we could reverse the trajectory of United Methodism by simply giving what God has asked
us to give. That is the revitalization we need.
Jim Wells, Wisconsin United Methodist Foundation