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Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money Hardcover – September 29, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why is it that Christians in the world's most affluent nation give so little of their income to charity? This sociological study, based on extensive survey data and building on prior studies of Christian philanthropy, shows that American Christian groups typically give away only 1.5% to 2% of their income. Considering that this figure is based on self-reporting, the reality is probably even less. Catholics are the worst, with many Protestant groups in the middle and Mormons (whom this study regards as "non-Christian religious believers") at the top. The first two chapters lay out the problem of Americans' ungenerous behavior, while the third ventures explanations: it's not that Americans don't have the money, but that they spend it on luxuries and fail to perceive needs outside their own circles; also, churches are vague about expectations for giving. A fourth chapter delves into parishioners' and pastors' complex feelings about giving, while a stirring conclusion lays down the gauntlet for change. Although the primary audience will be academic, any pastor who has ever had to preach a stewardship sermon should also read this book. (Oct.)
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"Superb. Urgent. Well researched but highly readable. This book is a powerful summons to use our abundance to bless others. A must-read." --Ronald J. Sider, President, Evangelicals for Social Action

"Americans are, supposedly, a generous people, and religiously active Americans are supposed to be among the most generous of the generous. These stereotypes are not entirely false, but sociologists Christian Smith and Michael Emerson want to register a dissent. Their patient and diligent research explores the troubling question why American Christians do not give MORE. Passing the Plate explores this unusually important subject with unusual depth, unusual clarity, and unusual insight." --Mark A. Noll, author of America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

"Financial giving to churches and charitable organizations has been neglected by scholarly researchers and remains poorly understood. With characteristic clarity and empirical precision, Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson have tackled one of the thorniest aspects of American Christians' behavior. I hope church leaders will read this fine book and find ways to incorporate its insights into their thinking about church finances. Scholars of religion and nonprofit organizations will benefit from it as well." --Robert Wuthnow, author of After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion

"They are clear in their presentation of their research and in the analysis of their conclusions. Seminary professors and leaders in church organizations might be well advised to read the excellent introduction first, and then pursue those chapters that present the authors' research and analysis." --Choice

"I am convinced that Passing the Plate is urgently important for the American church. Every pastor should read it and beg God for the courage to insist that his or her congregation deal directly and systemically with this topic in an ongoing way. Every seminary professor and church leader should read it and take its lessons to heart. And every informed Christian layperson should pray over this book, asking God for a biblical understanding of stewardship and the strength to act accordingly." --Books & Culture&R

"An outstanding work that should be read by anyone interested in Christian charitable giving. Its findings may surprise and perhaps even shock scholars and church leaders." --Sociology of Religion

"This book is a stunner... Smith, Emerson, and their colleagues have done outstanding work describing and analyzing important features of American Christianity in our time." --Church History


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195337115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195337112
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #713,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of many books, including What is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up (Chicago 201); Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Do Not Give Away More Money (OUP 2008); Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (OUP 2005), Winner of the 2005 "Distinguished Book Award" from Christianity Today; and Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture (OUP 2003).

Customer Reviews

I found the book well researched, full of useful data and information, and an easy read.
Charles E. Gardner
So, to pastors, denominational leaders, and Christian charitable organizations, I say, "Read this book!"
George P. Wood
Then they come up with a list of things they think people shouldn't be spending money on.
Kimba W. Lion

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By C. Stephans VINE VOICE on September 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a seminary student with plans enter the priesthood, I found Passing the Plate valuable and helpful. The authors approach the inquiry of "Why American Christians don't give away more money" with genuine concern and interest in those who profess a faith but don't support it financially as their faith suggests they should. The tone throughout the book is measured not to criticize or accuse Christians of fault but moreso to help Christians live up to their faith and to fund the causes in which they believe. I appreciated their motives, processes, honesty and suggestions.

The authors present themselves as sociologists rather than theologians or Christian leaders. Their endeavor is to research and study Christian giving that they might determine the thoughts, attitudes, emotions and resources behind Christian giving or lack of it.

They study and analyze a plethora of data on giving and givers. They perform their own surveys and interviews of Christian leaders and parishoners to get to the core of the issue. The data results of their studies are eye opening to say the least, and most of their statistics are clear and tell a revealing story of who gives, how much they give and why they give or don't give.

The authors offer and test hypotheses of why American Christians don't give more money--at least closer to the 10% tithe prescribed by most Christian organizations. They discuss their findings in relation to these hypotheses.

After discussing their findings, they present suggestions for Christian leaders to implement in their congregations to increase giving in conformity with their faith. These are coherent, practical applications that are not manipulative or conniving but what I think are really helpful suggestions that readers can consider.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For most pastors, the most frustrating part of the job is trying to raise money. The overwhelming majority of priests and ministers will tell you that they are uncomfortable talking about finances with their congregations and are puzzled by the apparent lack of genorosity of a large percentage of their parishioners. The old adage that "20% of parishioners contribute 80% of the funds" still appears to be true today. Why is the average Christian so reluctant to give more of their hard earned money to the churches they attend? Authors Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson attempt to get to the bottom of this conundrum in their important new book "Passing The Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money". It seems that the issues in play here are more complex than the authors had ever imagined.

For those who serve as pastors, administrators or members of parish finance committees, the issues that are presented and disected in "Passing The Plate" certainly come as no surprise. While most of us can agree that raising money should not be the primary focus of any congregation it is indeed an important and necessary aspect of parish life. The statistics offered by Smith and Emerson are stunning. Did you know that 22.1% of Christians give absolutely nothing to charity in any given year? Would it trouble you to learn that most church going Christians donate only 2-3% of income to the church they attend and to other charities each year? Equally disturbing is that a mere 9.4% of Christians give 10% or more of income. Throughout the pages of "Passing The Plate" the authors strive to explain the sociological reasons for these trends.

Not surprisingly, what the authors discovered is that many churches do a very poor job in making the case for increased giving.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Emerson and Smith provide an excellent sociological overview of religious and charitable giving habits of American Christians, with particular insight as to why we don't give more. If you can remember that that's what this book is, it is both informative and helpful. But don't expect it to be more than it is.

Most Christian denominations in the U.S. give lip service to tithing as a celebration of God's good gifts. And not just in an effort to break even, either: tithing pays for the gospel outreach of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. So why do many congregations struggle just to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid?

Emerson and Smith, helped in one chapter by Patricia Snell, mix original research with over two decades of collated data to figure this out. The conclusions they reach, though tentative, are not simple magic bullets. They reach into the heart of American Christian culture and challenge us on ideas we take for granted.

Early chapters rely heavily on dense statistics, and are laced with laypersons' guides to actuarial concepts. These chapters are heavy on charts and graphs, and copiously end-noted. They can be kind of tough sledding. Later chapters build on these stats in an accessible, plain-English way. The second half of the book is much more user-friendly than the first half.

Some parts of the book, particularly Chapter Four and the Conclusion, offer pointers intended to help churches stimulate giving. These portions are somewhat heavy-handed and prescriptive, without recourse to scripture. The authors also admit these pointers aren't based on experience or experiment. Thankfully, the book comes bound with a postcard to let readers receive updates as the authors' research advances.
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