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Friday, September 12, 2008

Our Failure

                                                    Our Failure
Recently, I received the 2007 numbers from Giving USA™, which is the statistical authority on to what, to whom, and how much Americans contribute each year.

I have always been amazed by the amount donated by Americans to nonprofits ($306.39 billion), and especially by the amount donated to religious causes (this includes all religions, but the vast portion goes to Christian groups, probably 80% or more). According to Giving USA™ the amount given to religious groups in 2007 was $102.32 billion. Yes, that number is $102,320,000,000 and, adjusted for inflation, that was a 1.8% increase over the amount given in 2006. The total given to religious activities is more than any other segment and amounts to 33.4% of all funds donated to various nonprofit organizations in the United States (of which there are more than 1.1 million groups). 
Incidentally, the group closest to religion is education, which received $43.32 billion in 2007, a distant second to the amount contributed to religion.

The $102.32 billion contributed to religious activities is a lot of money, but my question is: If we are donating so much more to religious causes than ever before, why aren’t we seeing an impact from such giving?

Let’s say that just 60% of all this giving goes to Christian groups. That would be more than $60 billion dollars. If that’s the case, why isn’t Christianity flourishing? Why isn’t it growing rapidly? Why isn’t Christianity having a powerful impact on our culture? Why isn’t the USA becoming a more civil, kinder country with each passing year?

Why aren’t there more people in church each Sunday, less foul language, fewer abortions, less pornography, less divorce, fewer broken homes, less crime, etc.?

I think I know the answer. Christianity has become an institution, not a cause. It’s become inwardly focused. It has become, as Reggie McNeal says, a "club" with its own rituals and buzz words, but its impact on society as a whole is negligible.

From the perspective of a donor who wants to see his dollar have an impact, Christianity circa 2008 is a flop. It is understandably not written up in the book, Forces for Good, as an effective cause.

Whoa, my Christian friends are going to say, that’s not fair. We need churches, we need staff, we need to take care of the elderly, and we need fellowship, etc. And my answer is, yes, but $60 billion should still allow plenty of funds for sharing the Good News.

Whoa, they will say again. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change hearts and convert souls.
And I would respond that yes, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change hearts, but we have been commanded to bring the Good News to those who do not yet trust in Jesus so that the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to change hearts.

Is Christendom in America taking the Good News outside our churches to the hurting? If that is a legitimate question, then I’d say we are getting a poor return on our $60 billion or whatever the actual number is. 

We are exhorted to exercise good stewardship with our dollars and our talents. Spending $60 billion per year without any significant return seems like poor stewardship to me.
It’s not a shortage of dollars that is holding back spiritual renewal in America. It’s not the Holy Spirit. What else can it be but a lack of focus on outreach that is restraining the Good News from spreading far and wide?

If you are a believer, where’s your focus? Are you satisfied with the impact your donated dollars are having? Before it is too late, shouldn’t we start thinking of Christianity as a cause, rather than an institution?

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