Topic: Generosity Book Inspires Church Giving for Church Budget Solutions

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Inspires Church Giving


This front article appeared in the Sunday paper of the St. Paul Pioneer Press metro edition in Minnesota (circulation: 251,838)

Newspaper article title: Pastor Pitches Tithing as a Budget Solution by Frederick Melo


What would Jesus tithe?


The Rev. Brian Kluth thinks Christians can figure that out for themselves -- after 40 days of prayer, meditation and study of his devotional-style booklet.

Kluth, a former fundraiser for Bethel University, has been shipping Twin Cities churches sample copies of "40 Day Spiritual Journey to a More Generous Life," which claims to make tithing a little easier on the heart and the wallet.

Among his ideas is that in tough times, donations actually help givers get out of debt by forcing careful budgeting.

Through his Web sites, and, Kluth is encouraging Christians to try a 90-day test run in generous giving. That entails donating at least 10 percent of every deposit to their local church and religious causes.

But it's OK if their giving lags once in a while -- provided they make it up later.

That might sound like a stretch to many -- even Kluth acknowledges in interviews that 10 percent is a handsome sum and that "catch-up" donations are rare. But at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, church leaders liked what they read.

With two sites, a food shelf partnership and an overseas ministry to support in a down economy, they figured it would be best to order 1,200 copies -- one for every household in the congregation.

"It's based on scripture, and it's very thought-provoking," said Judy Pascoe, Easter Lutheran's development director. "The Bible does talk about giving and generosity."

Easter Lutheran isn't the only church snatching up copies of Kluth's giving guide -- nor is it the only religious institution with serious concerns about maintaining the bottom line in an uncertain economic climate.

With attendance becoming increasingly irregular and tithing on the decline, churches across the country have struggled with how to appeal to their memberships for money. Add economic woes like rising gas and food prices and an unsteady job market, and many Christian groups are bracing for an extra financial pinch, if they haven't felt it already.

Even the Vatican showed a $13.5 million deficit last year, which it recently blamed in part on the weak dollar hurting its investments.

But any movement that calls for a bountiful increase in church giving is bound to stir the ire of skeptics -- even some from among the ranks of Christian conservatives.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, raised eyebrows throughout evangelical circles last year when he demanded detailed financial audits of six megachurches run by televangelists. One is led by a Georgia pastor with an annual salary that reportedly approaches $1 million.

Of course, most Christians give much less than 10 percent of their earnings, a figure with Biblical significance: Many scholars trace the 10 percent tithe to Moses, but others point farther back to a celebratory gift given by Abraham to King Melchizedek.

And the amount appears to be dropping.

According to the research group Empty Tomb Inc. of Champaign, Ill., Protestants donated a smaller percentage of their income in 2005 (2.6 percent) than they did at the depth of the Great Depression (3.2 percent).

Empty Tomb Vice President Sylvia Ronsvalle said that's because attitudes toward giving have changed as Americans have gotten wealthier and more insulated from the desperately poor. Before World War II, about 40 percent of U.S. residents lived in poverty by today's federal standard.

But in 2006, the number was just over 12 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"When 40 percent of the people were poor, everybody knew people who were poor," Ronsvalle said. "They had firsthand experience with the poor."

With the economic expansion that began after World War II, "fewer and fewer people were struggling. Church leaders did not feel comfortable teaching about the increased responsibility that comes with this affluence. ... There was this general euphoria."

An international "independence" movement against U.S.-sponsored ministry work in the 1950s and 1960s also left parishioners less focused on contributing toward overseas outreach, Ronsvalle said.

Add postwar growth in public services, and many people now see government, not private religious organizations, as the primary vehicle for serving the destitute.

But Kluth argues that churches still have plenty of work to do beyond meeting a basic budget and keeping their lights on. He thinks they should feed the hungry and pursue other strategic initiatives, and he says his book has 400 Scripture verses to prove it.

Kluth, a certified budget counselor with Crown Financial Ministries, is an ordained pastor with the Minneapolis-based Evangelical Free Church, and his wife is from Roseville.

He shopped "40 Day Spiritual Journey to a More Generous Life" to seven publishers and was rejected seven times before using an inheritance from his mother to self-publish it in 2006.

He said he has since distributed 270,000 copies to 60 denominations, including some Catholic groups, with translations planned this year in 43 languages.

"We have accounts of giving increasing anywhere from 10 to nearly 60 percent," said Kluth, a Milwaukee native who leads a congregation in Colorado Springs, Colo. "In my own church, giving went up 44 percent. ... Normally, we've been behind budget the first six months of the year. Now, we're meeting budget year-round."

Whether or not the U.S. falls into an official recession, some see a potential silver lining for religious institutions. In tough times, Christians appear just as likely as not to put a little extra in the collection plate.

"We did an analysis of recessions from 1968 through 2005, and we did not find a pattern," said Empty Tombs' Ronsvalle. "In fact, giving increased as often in recession years as it decreased."

Copyright 2008 Saint Paul Pioneer Press.  Used by permission following 8/12/8 email to reporter.

Dr. Brian Kluth is a pastor, inspirational guest speaker, bestselling author, and leading media authority on church giving. His 40 Day Spiritual Journey to a More Generous Life has become a bestseller with 320,000 copies in print and translations underway in more than 40 foreign languages,


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