Why Tithing Hurts the Mission of Jesus

Jun 14, 2021

OK… I confess, that title may be guilty of falling into the category of “clickbait.”  Perhaps a more accurate title for this post would be “Why Our Sole Dependency On Tithing Hurts The Mission of Jesus.”

Recognizing this truth is an important first step toward a sustainable strategy for funding the ministry of the church you lead. Here’s why:

How It Starts

Let’s start by considering how sole dependency on tithing hurts new churches.

Over the last several decades, the formula for starting a new church looked something like this: Step one: Announce that you are starting a new church to reach lost people. Step two: As quickly as possible, gather a critical mass of Christians together and begin holding weekly worship services. Step three: begin reaching lost people. Do you see the problems with this approach? 

  1. In order to quickly achieve adequate ongoing funding the church must be shaped to attract and serve “church” people first. 
  2. This approach incentivizes the church starter and start team members to recruit as many people who already know how to tithe. As a result, the lost are under prioritized. 
  3. This approach actually de-incentivizes anyone from reaching out to people far from God because it’s unrealistic to expect them to quickly become part of the funding stream of the church.

Ironically, the most popular funding strategy for starting new churches actually encourages church starters to focus on people who know how to tithe (also known as Christians) rather than people who don’t have a clue what tithing is (also known as lost people). The result is that new churches are incentivized to “lure” Christians to meetings rather than activate disciple makers to go and make disciples- the exact opposite of their stated intentions.

But it’s not just new churches that are hobbled by a sole dependency on tithes.

It’s a financial strategy that hurts existing churches as well. Here’s how:

How it Continues

Churches that depend on tithes as their sole source of support may be susceptible to mission drift. As a pastor of an existing church, I had a member suggest a course of action that was out of alignment with the direction God was leading us as a church. I thanked the member for the suggestion but let him know that we would not be able to put his suggestion into action because it would take us down a path where God was not leading us. He responded by saying, “Well, you know, I give a lot of money to this church.” He was right. His personal giving accounted for nearly 20% of the total income of the church. And his proposal was not ethically or morally wrong. It just wasn’t the right course of action for the church at that time. I must admit, I was tempted to find a compromise that would keep his generous funds flowing in our direction. But in the end, I did what I knew was right and watched him, his influence and his money walk out the door. Financially, it was a hard it. It took us at least a year to recover. But missionally, it was the right thing to do. 

Here’s the deal. Churches where the only source of support for the pastor’s family and the operational costs of the church are the tithe income of the members are vulnerable to mission drift. The fact that this practice has become normal doesn’t make it right.

Why We Tithe

By the way, the tithe was never intended to be the sole source of revenue for funding a church. In fact, the tithe was designed to protect our hearts. Protecting our hearts is literally why we tithe. Tithing is not about paying bills and funding salaries. The reason Christ followers need to give is to keep their hearts from becoming overly attached to material wealth that is really only temporary.

But if tithes are not intended to be the sole source of revenue for the Church, how then are supposed to cover the costs of doing the ministry? Good question. 

That will be the focus of our conversations in the upcoming free webinar, ‘Five Revenue Streams Churches Need to Be Thinking About.’

Get an answer to your questions by attending this conversation on June 21st, 2pm ET. You can register here.

Steve Pike is the President and Founder of Urban Islands Project, a national collaborative organization dedicated to increasing the presence of the Church the urban core of America’s 40 largest urban centers. He is also the primary host of the Next Wave Community, a real time peer learning community for church leaders in challenging contexts. Prior to initiating Urban Islands Project, Steve served as the Founding Director of the Church Multiplication Network. CMN serves church multipliers to effectively equip, strategically fund and innovatively network new faith communities in America. Since its formation in 2008 Steve’s passion for church multiplication began in 1989 when Steve and his wife, Cherri, pioneered a new church that became the catalyst of a church planting movement in the state of Utah that continues to this day. The Pikes make their home in Denver, Colorado. They are blessed to be the parents of Lindsy and Jeremy and the grandparents of Myles, Koen, Wesley and James.

Steve Pike

Founder and President, Urban Islands Project