"Empowered to change, changed to empower," Senior Pastor Sean Wise preached one Sunday in March from the pulpit of Calvary Baptist Church at 16th Street and Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia. "For though membership has its privileges, membership has its responsibilities."

The band played, the choir rejoiced, and the deacons and deaconesses, men and women in charcoal suits and black dresses, arranged baskets for the envelopes in which

Who's Giving to Church?

  • 66% of all adults donated to a church or religious center during 1999.

  • 17% of adults claim to tithe, while 3% actually do so.

  • 16% of born again Christians gave no money to his or her church in 1999.

  • 8% of those making $20,000 or less gave at least 10% of their income to churches, while 1% of those making $75,000-$99,999 gave a similar amount.

  • 27% of people who do not attend church made no donations to nonprofits in 1999.

    Source: Barna Research Group studies from 1997, 1999, and 2000
  • the congregation sealed their tithes and offerings. On the envelope were the words of Malachi 3:8-11, "'Try me,' the Lord said. 'Give me a tenth of what you have and see if I do not flood you with an abundant return.'"

    Tithing--giving 10 percent of one's income to one's church as commanded by Scripture--is encouraged at Calvary Baptist and elsewhere in the Christian world, notably in black churches.

    A check of the situation, though, shows that beyond black churches statistics are hard to come by, and that tithing customs and definitions can vary greatly.

    Fully 45 percent of African American church members tithe, according to a newly released survey that the Gallup Organization conducted for the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC), a consortium of African American seminaries located in Atlanta.

    Another survey, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Program for the Study of Organized Religion and Social Work, found that African American churches derive almost half their income from offerings and a third from tithes and dues.

    "There is more and more data that black churches are more involved [in tithing] than white churches, because the laity is more theological," the ITC's Stephen Rasor said. "One does not separate the secular from the religious."

    At Calvary Baptist, Mr. Wise said he had seen tithing levels increase in his 2 1/2 years as pastor.

    "There are times when money is tight, but in a real spiritual sense it is all God's income."

    "We believe in the Scriptures that say we are not the owners of anything," he said in a phone interview. "God is the owner...And I think you'll see similar increases in tithing across the board, in the suburbs as well as in the city."

    Halfway across the country, David Rustad of the Lutheran Brotherhood in St. Paul, Minn., streamlines tithing for Lutherans. Lutheran Brotherhood, an independent, not-for-profit provider of life insurance and mutual funds, has an electronic system that funnels money into Lutheran coffers directly from members' bank accounts.

    Though Rustad does not know how many Lutherans tithe a full 10 percent, he believes the figure is increasing. He attributed the growth to a nationwide spiritual rejuvenation, citing secular bookstores' now selling spiritual literature and the Bush administration's emphasis on faith-based social programs.

    "One thing that motivates people to give is when they see their money used efficiently," he said. "And with the advent of e-mail, we feel connected to the ministries we support."

    Rustad said he and his wife tithed, dividing the amount between their church and medical missionaries in Peru, Uganda and Afghanistan.