(RNS) June 7--Giving to churches and other nonprofit groups declined in 2000and fewer people actually tithe than claim to follow the practice, BarnaResearch Group has found.

Seventy-eight percent of American adults donated money to a churchor other nonprofit organization last year, a drop of 6 percentage pointsfrom the previous year and 9 points from 1998.

The average per-person giving to such charitable organizationsdecreased 15 percent in 2000 to a mean of $886. The mean was $1,045 in1999 and $1,377 in 1998.

Researchers for the Ventura, Calif., research firm polled a randomsample of 1,005 adults and asked them whether they tithe, how much theydonated to houses of worship and the amount of their household income.

Although 17 percent of adults claimed to tithe, when researcherscompared the amount they gave to their house of worship and theirhousehold income, they found that only 6 percent actually donatedone-tenth of their income to that religious charity.

The 6 percent figure is based on the liberal definition of tithingbecause there is a debate over whether tithing should be based onpre-tax or post-tax income, said David Kinnaman, vice president of BarnaResearch Group.

Despite the decline in giving, churches remain the most likelygroups to receive individual financial support. Sixty-one percent ofadults donated money to one or more churches in 2000, compared to 66percent in 1999. The average church donor contributed a mean of $649 tochurches in 2000, compared to $806 in 1999.

George Barna, president of the research company, said churches mayneed to adjust as young adults "barely" give to religious causes andbaby boomers--those in their mid-30s to mid-50s--do not always sharetheir generosity with churches.

"They are value-donors, giving to organizations that they perceiveto be providing personal benefits or significant, unduplicated value tosociety," Barna said in a statement. "As these two generations becomemore prolific within churches, their tendency to give less to churcheswill challenge ministries to reconceptualize their budgeting,fund-raising and planning practices."

The poll, based on telephone interviews, had a margin of error ofplus or minus 3 percentage points.