I know the US is not Canada. But it is likely that, though the numbers are vastly different, the trends in charitable giving are similar in the two countries.

The US numbers are astronomical. The highest sector for charitable giving in the US is by far the religious sector.

In the US faith-based organizations receive $95.88 billion in donations per year. The next highest recipient of donor dollars is the education sector which receives $38.9 billion, followed by human services at $35.4 billion.

But, according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, the news for religious institutions in the US is not encouraging.

Charitable giving to the religious sector fell by 1.7 percent last year, according to the Giving USA 2012 report released this week. Since the start of 2010, giving to religious groups has slipped by a cumulative 3.7 percent (not adjusted for inflation).

This shows religion to be lagging in the evermore intense competition for donor dollars, even as other nonprofit sectors gain. Total charitable giving rose by 4 percent in 2011 to $298.4 billion. Of the eight sectors tracked by Giving USA, seven saw donations rise in both 2010 and 2011. Only religion lost ground. (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2012/0622/Giving-to-religious-institutions-drops-for-second-year-in-a-row.-Why)

This trend in religious institutions, experts suggest, could be could be “the start of a long-term slide”. They suggest three causes for the precipitous decline in financial support for religious organizations:

1. declining attendance

2. recession in the economy in general

3. lack of expertise “in deploying professional development teams”

Whatever the reasons and whatever the real numbers, the important question is how churches choose to respond to the reality of present economic decline.

There are two potentially problematic and opposite responses:

1. increasingly aggressive attempts to raise funds

The church is not primarily in the fund raising business. It is important to be responsible about the life of the church; but church exists to deepen our awareness of God’s presence and action in our lives and to encourage us to respond to that awareness in whatever way we sense God calling.

Church leaders need to make the facts available to adherents. But, equally, we need to avoid badgering, pressuring, or manipulating in order to meet the bottom line.

Paul says,

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

There is no place in a faith-based organization for pressure or coercion. In the Christian tradition we are called, not to support any institution, but to live in response to the abundance of God’s love and mercy. Where the church keeps its focus on the work of grace in Christ, there will be adequate resources available to fulfill the tasks to which God is calling us.

2. the development of paralyzing timidity and excessive caution in the life of religious institutions

The church and religious organizations are faith-based communities. We live in trust that there is a power at work in our midst that is greater, stronger, and more benevolent than anything we could ever manufacture.

The writer of 2 Timothy says,

God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.(2 Timothy 1:7)

In family finances, there are clearly times when it is necessary to cut back and economize. But, within reason, churches should do all they can to avoid the cautious paralyzed spirit that is the temptation of economically challenging times. We serve a God who has poured out abundant goodness and richness upon all the earth. We are the stewards of a great abundance. We need to trust in God’s provision and continue to step out boldly in confidence that God provides for anything to which God calls us.