Gallup: Americans Giving Time and Dollars to Religious Groups Hits All-Time Low

By Josh Shepherd
gallup giving money donations offering
Americans are giving less of their time and money to religious causes than ever before, a new national Gallup survey shows. (Jeff Jacobs / Pixabay / Creative Commons)

Americans are giving less of their time and money to religious causes than ever before, a new national Gallup survey shows.

By contrast, giving and volunteering to secular charitable organizations have rebounded from previous lows.

Specifically, 44% of Americans report donating money to a religious organization in 2021, matching last year’s record low. In each of the 20 years prior to 2021, at least half of all Americans gave to religious organizations. In some years, as many as 64% did.

gallup giving donations volunteering
“U.S. Adults Monetary Donations in Past 12 Months,” Gallup, Jan. 2021.

Similarly, a record low percentage of Americans are volunteering their time to religious organizations. Only 35% of Americans report volunteering time to a religious organization in 2021. Previous to 2021, the lowest percentage volunteering since 2001 was 37%.

gallup volunteering time giving
“U.S. Adults’ Volunteer Activity in Past 12 Months,” Gallup, Jan. 2021.

Secular nonprofits, which also experienced record- or near record-lows in people donating time and money last year, have returned to normal levels.

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In 2020, 73% of Americans donated their money to secular and religious nonprofits combined, which was the lowest combined percentage since 2001. However, this year that percentage jumped to 81%, which exceeds some previous years.

gallup giving time money trends
“Trends in U.S. Adults’ Charitable Activities,” Gallup, Jan. 2021.

The survey suggests the initial decline in giving time and money to all nonprofits can be blamed on COVID-19.

“A recovery in volunteering may be more elusive as concerns about COVID-19 exposure and public health safety measures limit Americans’ willingness and ability to perform volunteer work,” states the Gallup report.

Regarding the overall rebound trend, a recent report from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, which surveys data from 9,618 U.S.-based nonprofit groups, provides insight. Their report finds the number of nonprofit donors in decline, but the total amount in donations rising—reflecting enthusiasm among large donors to engage with causes they believe in.

Gallup attributes the declines in religious-based giving to decreased membership at houses of worship.

“The 44% of U.S. adults donating to a religious organization nearly matches the 47% who belong to a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple,” the study states.

With most COVID-related public gathering limits ended, in-person church services have resumed in nearly all areas. However, several surveys have confirmed that church attendance remains down.

Declines in church attendance are also linked to the decline in active volunteers, a concern echoed in a Lifeway Research survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors released this week. Of 44 needs that pastors identified, more than three-quarters of respondents cited “developing leaders and volunteers” as a need in their church.

Chuck Peters, director of the children’s ministry team at Lifeway Christian Resources, suggested a compound cause for fewer people helping at their church. Many dependable volunteers are at high risk for COVID due to their age, which has kept them away.

“A lot of churches lost their long-term, reliable, go-to people and were left with no one,” he said in a recent interview. “That’s been the challenge.”

Peters recommends that churches use this opportunity to rethink volunteer recruitment. “The tendency becomes ask everyone and take anyone,” he said. “Really, that’s not the best approach . . . Recruit with the why of the ministry, not the need of the ministry.”

“People are experiencing real losses,” he added. “In a season where the world is crazy, (they) need Jesus more than ever to speak to their fears.”

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.

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5 thoughts on “Gallup: Americans Giving Time and Dollars to Religious Groups Hits All-Time Low”

  1. The advancement of progressive / liberal thinking within all observed denominations has created a style and form of religion that is devoid of spiritual disciplines that were prevalent in years past.
    I’m addressing the evangelical movement that prevails across this nation. We might want people to get connected to God but what has happened we’ve forfeited everything just to get the unsaved to walk in the door and consequently what we now offer isn’t anything different from what the world gives.
    So why should it be a shock that people lose interest in a backslidden form of Christianity. What is a shock is that Pastors and church leaders are unwilling to admit that they have made bad decisions and are unwilling to admit that to their congregations and make the necessary decision to return to the old ways.
    Once you start feeding people carnality just to get them in the front door, you have to continue down that path to keep them.

    1. Thank you for saying this.

      I had a similar thought in that I am no longer willing to bankroll the moral failures of modern church leaders.

    2. When Evangelicals are willing to sell their souls to the whim of a political party lots of people will opt out of giving and volunteering.

      I know countless people who stopped giving because the church would rather discuss the current hot political topic without any regard to the gospel.

  2. Could it be that people are losing faith in tithing as a financial insurance policy whereby God only takes care of us when we pay our premiums. Thats whats been sold to us ala Malachi 3. They see the windows of heaven opening for billionaires but not for the average shmoe.
    Also, I would much rather give 10% of my income to a poor person worthy of the help than to a mega ministry building another mansion of mass gathering.
    Or for a bigger shock, ask yourself how the first century church survived and thrived without a million dollar budget and high paid professionals?
    Maybe God is tired of the sheep getting sheered in his name under the auspices of obedience to the word.

  3. I will confess that I am one who stopped tithing my time, talent and treasure towards a church (mine or any other). I now tithe those 3 things to other community organizations that are focused on addressing an issue God has put on my heart: hunger.
    I grew tired of giving my money to churches that remain silent on the injustices and tragedies in our surrounding community (as if the victims deserve it), have positioned themselves as the local campaign office for the GOP/Trump (because “real” Christians are conservatives), or lack transparency around where the money is going (because we should trust our leaders!).
    Unfortunately, many of today’s churches do a mix of all three. So I’ll come to service, fellowship, pray, and praise with fellow believers. But until I see different, my wallet and calendar stay closed.

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