Why Don’t People Tithe?

Andrew McNairBy Andrew McNair9 Minutes

Excerpt taken from The Giving Crisis: Helping Average Givers Become Everyday Philanthropists by Andrew S. McNair


Beyond excuses about personal finances and priorities—and just plain procrastination—there are a few common reasons people cite as to why they don’t put money in the offering plate (or, more recently, give online). By definition, tithing is giving a tenth to the church, while giving is over and above the 10 percent to ministries and charities. Let’s go over some of these common excuses why people don’t tithe or give.

“I must take care of my family first.”

When Natasha and I start dating, I brought her roses every week. I would come into her work every Friday with half a dozen or so roses. She would smile ear to ear and say, “Andrew, you are my Romeo.” It was trouble back then to fit my big head out the door of her work.

Yet one night Natasha came to visit me at my office for the first time. I gave her the office tour and ended it by showing her our lobby. At the front receptionist’s desk she saw a vase full of roses. She said, “Andrew, what are these for?”

“Oh, we give every client that visits with us a rose,” I replied. “It’s a reminder that it’s just money after all, and to smell the roses.”

She gave me a squinted, uneasy glare, and that’s when I realized I was in trouble. The flowers looked familiar to her. She asked hesitantly, “Are these the roses that you give me every week?”

I responded timidly “Yes, I always give you the ones we have leftover at the end of the week. She replied, “Andrew, it’s really sweet that you bring me these roses, but these were meant for someone else first. These aren’t my roses, these are your clients’ roses.”

That evening I learned a valuable lesson: that order matters. Yes, we should prioritize water, electricity, food, and shelter, but there is more, and God has spoken on this. Proverbs 3:9–10 says, “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (NKJV). He doesn’t say second fruits or last fruits. He gives us the priority list for our funds. Natasha always wondered why the roses were a little wilted. What does our offering look like to God at the end of the week?

“We give in different ways.”

I have met with families who have told me, “Andrew we give to a lot of organizations, but we don’t give to a church. We give in different ways other than money. We give our time and other resources.”

Those gifts are important. However, that mindset is in opposition with scripture in Malachi where God accuses his people of robbing him because they neglected to prioritize God’s house. God’s house is your local church.

“I don’t know where the money is going.”

If this is your excuse, I’d like to ask, “Do you know exactly where all of your money is going in your personal life?” Many families don’t have a budget (let alone a budget committee) they have to answer to. I’ll address later in this book why I think traditional budgets are mostly ineffective for individuals and families. For now, my question here is this: have you taken a look at your own financial management practices before critiquing your church?

Most churches have a group of responsible people trying to do the best with the church’s finances in service of the gospel. If your church doesn’t have this—and if you’re already managing your own money well—maybe it’s a service you can offer.

Sadly, there will always be churches that get it wrong. There are leaders and pastors who steal and shame the rest of the body of Christ. But before we judge the church, we should attend those budget committees and look in the mirror of our own money-management practices.

“I think my pastor is already overpaid.”

I doubt your pastor is living as high on the hog as you think, or they might have another stream of income. Many are dual-career staff members and do not have enough support from their church to be a full-time pastor. Many rely on a spouse’s income.

Is there church leadership in place which publishes the pastor’s salary? If not, you don’t know what your pastor gets paid and you don’t have intimate details of his finances. So before you jump to conclusions, step back and ask if this is just an elaborate way for you to avoid doing what you know God has called you to do.

More importantly, should your pastor’s salary determine whether or not you are obedient to God in your giving practice? It is your responsibility to give. It is the committee’s responsibility to determine how the funds are allocated.

Finally, if you’re genuinely concerned that your pastor gets paid “too much” (there are definitely overpaid pastors in our country), be reminded that you do not have to stay at the church where you are currently attending. You can find a smaller, more community-oriented church if that’s what you prefer.

“God will provide for the church, so I don’t have to.”

God will surely provide, and God doesn’t need your money. As the psalmist writes, “He is the God of a thousand hills and every animal on those hills is His. He does not need sacrifice (of animals, of money, of anything else). The purpose of tithing is transformation and witness: not God’s need or ability to provide.

Sometimes the most “religious” people are those who resist giving the most. If we are not careful we will approach Jesus just like the Rich Young Ruler (RYR): as someone who lived the letter of the law but who did not want to give from his heart.

Jesus’ conversation with the RYR sounds a lot like a conversation he has with a group of lawyers, recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Both come to Jesus with the same question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answered with the same reply: Do you know the commandments and have you followed them?

Both arrogantly agreed they knew the commandments and even followed them to a T. They were religious, observant, proud people: and they thought they had aced the test.

But Jesus knew their hearts—and he cared enough not to brush them off or let them go. With the lawyers, he challenged them with the story of the Good Samaritan. With the Rich Young Ruler, he challenged him to give up his possessions. Each had to choose: would they let go of their possessions to help those who were “different” than them?

Like the RYR and like the lawyers, we also find ourselves wanting the good life—and an eternal one. Which do you want more?

Order your copy of The Giving Crisis: Helping Average Givers Become Everyday Philanthropists by Andrew S. McNair