Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Ansel Oliver/ANN

Since the 1970s, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has seen its tithe, or members donating 10 percent of their earnings to the church, drop 75 percent, per capita, adjusted for inflation, says Benjamin C. Maxson, stewardship director for the Seventh-day Adventist world church.

Adventist Christians may not be alone in this seeming trend. Barna Research Group, Ltd., an independent Christian research firm in southern California, says the number of American households who give at least 10 percent of their income to their church has dropped by 62 percent in the past year—from 8 percent in 2001 to just 3 percent of adults during 2002.

About 30 percent of Adventist Church members worldwide give tithe. In parts of Africa and South America as few as 10 percent give tithe.

Tithing is related to spirituality, says Maxson, who is not worried so much about a reduction in tithe as of the spirituality of Adventists around the globe. “My concern is for the spirituality of the church. Finances are a byproduct. They will take care of themselves when the spiritual condition is correct,” he says.

“All our studies show that a majority don’t have an assurance of salvation and do not have a walk with God—no daily devotions,” he says, citing the Value Genesis study conducted by the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, in the late 1980s, in 1993 and again in 2002.

In the 1970s, 70 percent to 80 percent of members attended church regularly and 65 percent tithed. Now 45 percent to 50 percent of members regularly attend church and 30 percent tithe, according to Maxson.

Roy Ryan, an associate treasurer for the Adventist world church, points out the spiritually dedicated Adventists in Korea. As a church employee and professor there in the early and mid 1990s, he says the tithing rate was about 70 percent. “It’s always been one of the most faithful areas of the church. It’s a praying church.”

Annually, tithe brings the Adventist Church US $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion, says Maxson.

He points out that tithe is measured differently across denominations. Some say 10 percent is something to strive for. “We say it’s a place to start,” he says.

In Argentina during the recent economic crisis tithe went down but not equal to the local economy. “Adventists continued to be faithful even during a time of economic crisis,” says Maxson.

The cure is a “serious discipling program,” he says. Another factor he cites is secularization of church culture.

Erika F. Puni, the church’s stewardship director for the South Pacific region, agrees. “I would concur with Maxson that the real issue behind the decline in tithe receipt is spirituality or the lack thereof,” says Puni, who also serves as personal ministries and Sabbath School director for the region.

Tithe receipted by the church has been declining for at least the last 25 years when compared to income, according to Puni, citing research of the church in the North New South Wales, Australia, region by Robert McIver and Stephen Currow in 1999 and 2000.

Puni quotes research saying, “‘This steady decline can be explained if the tithing behavior of the various age cohorts remained relatively stable. As each of the younger cohorts aged, they made up a larger percentage of wage earners. That they tithed at a lower rate means that over time the rate of total members who tithe decreases.

“‘This downward trend appears likely to continue for at least the next 15 years, after which time tithe will still decline relative to attendees’ incomes, but at a much lower rate.’”

“It should be noted,” says Puni, “that in the last 10 years—particularly in the late 1990s—within this region, political unrest and other related events in Papua New Guinea, Solomons and Fiji had a real impact on our church members’ ability to return God’s tithe.”

A small increase in tithing in Europe may be due to the increase in currency values—specifically the Cypriot pound, says Bill Olson, stewardship director for the Adventist Church in the Trans-European region, based in St. Albans, a town outside of London.

Olson says each church region ought to have a full-time stewardship director. “It’s a matter of priorities,” he says, implying that nowadays technical things tend to take up the finances—IT and Sun Accounts. “There’s always money, but it’s a matter of where you want it.” Olson also serves as the region’s treasurer and trust officer.

He encourages pastors to visit members in their homes, a practice he feels he had the most success with himself, and discuss three things:  their spiritual walk, educating their children or grandchildren in Adventist schools, and their giving habits and returning the “Lord’s tithe.”

Tithe figures in Southern Africa are up slightly, according to Nceku Moses Msimanga, stewardship director for the church’s Southern Africa-Indian Ocean region, based in Harare, Zimbabwe. Msimanga says church leaders there have started what they call, “Eight Focus Issues.” Two issues in the church campaign are “spirituality” and “self-support.” “This has made a tremendous impact on our tithe returns,” says Msimanga.

“On spirituality, we promote a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus Christ ... We start with the heart.” Msimanga says that if the church aims only at pockets, it may amount to robbery.

“Self-support says, I can do it. It promotes self-esteem and removes a dependence syndrome. It trains one to be self-reliant and see the potential in oneself. More and more people have moved from the receiving end to the giving zone,” says Msimanga. “There is still room for growth but the arrows are pointing upward.”

He says countries in the region are going through a tough economic phase. “Our currencies are softening each day and the cost of living is rising higher and higher.”

However, Ryan says “when there’s a link spiritually with the Lord, there are links in other ways too.”