Church Economics 101: The myth that tithes and offerings can continue to sustain church stability and growth

Is it possible for a church to rely solely on tithes and offerings to sustain the church budget?  This is a question posed by Mark Deymaz and Harry Li in their book, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics. They argue that the days of running a church on giving alone are gone. 

They quote Barna Group research that shows a drop in the following indicators:

  • higher pastor salaries
  • congregations with less personal debt
  • churches located in less densely populated suburban and rural areas
  • sustainable funding sources. 

All these indicators associated with sustainable churches are in decline.1 

Deymaz and Li add four more contributing factors to the decline in church financial sustainability.

1. A growing financial burden on the middle class due to inflation and increasing debt which they link together – the cost of living has increased household debt. 

2. A downward trend in religious giving – in the US giving to religious causes dropped from 56% in the second half of the 1980s to 33% between 2010 to 2014.

3. A shift in generational approaches to giving – Gen Xers and Ys are more sceptical about giving with a preference to volunteering in order to make a difference.

4. A rapidly changing population and demographic – younger generations prioritise what causes to give their dollars to differently to the boomers.  Also, there is an increasing income disparity between the existing middle class, younger generations and immigrants trends, which will become more noticeable as the population growth slows.2

The authors add a warning that the church can’t expect the ongoing government support of church income tax and land tax exemptions.3. Community expectations are putting the church under more scrutiny.

The church doesn’t have an exclusive claim on a community franchise to do good works in the community. 

One concern here is directed at churches pushing their advantage of the government tax system to extremes and displaying insensitivities to the local community when developing church land.4  

When you add up all these factors, the authors reach the conclusion that the idea that tithes and offerings can continue to sustain churches is a myth.

Deymaz and Li are both pastors with first hand experience in planting and growing sustainable churches.  Their argument in The Coming Revolution in Church Economics is that tithes and offerings are no longer enough to sustain church stability.  We need something more. 

Their solution is to create multiple income streams from leveraging church assets, monetising existing church services and starting new businesses.  Exploring these possibilities takes up the second half of the book.  

Deymaz and Li are passionate about church financial sustainability.  They have made a missiology grounded in economics out of their own personal reflections and tribulations as church planters and pastors. 

Having worked in the same mission field with pastors, churches and finance in my various roles with Churches of Christ in Victoria and around Australia over the last twenty years I am highly sympathetic to their cause. 

Their passion for evangelistic mission and exuberance to sustain church buildings push the focus of church economics to the centre of their missiology to make the following claim. 

“In the twentieth century effective evangelism was rooted in explanation.  In what remains of the twenty-first century effective evangelism will be rooted in economics.”5

Mark Deymaz & Harry Li

It is easy to be critical at this point.  Is evangelism really rooted in explanation?  Doesn’t the wind of the Spirit blow beyond our control (John 3:8)?  Or is the kerygma, the preaching of the gospel, inspired by our laboured apologetics and homiletics?  Isn’t it more the case that we preach but it is God that convicts? 

No one I’ve heard of was ever “explained” into God’s Kingdom. Yes, lets communicate our message well.  We are partners in Christ’s mission of redemption to a broken world so we need to be diligent workers but at the end of the day God is the lead partner who builds the church otherwise we labour in vain (Psalm 127:1).   

Community expectations are putting the church under more scrutiny. The church doesn’t have an exclusive claim on a community franchise to do good works in the community. 

The immediate context of this evangelism of economics is somewhat clarified when the book examines our attitude to money.  Acting like cheapskates by not tipping (this is America, not Australia), expecting pastors wives [sic]6 to run heavy ministry loads without pay and exploiting government charitable exemptions on land and stipends. 

In short, grasping for handouts and being greedy instead of charitable and generous!  

Later on in the book, the authors argue for a change in congregational thinking on money – both in giving and making the most of church assets.  I can again identify with much of this in my own experience over the years working with churches. 

If we accept a shift in evangelism based on a changed Christian attitude to economics I would agree it is part of the future.  But a mind shift towards God’s economics must transform our attitudes to others.  Francis of Assisi reputedly said, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”7

In other words, put your money where your mouth is; use what we have to help others and not just ourselves. What we do says far more than what we say (James 2:14-17).  

It’s quite clear that the central thrust of this book and the claim of what amounts to an economic missiology is really grounded in our age of late capitalism and the church romance with property and finance. 

Our engrained thinking on how to evangelise the world is based on building and sustaining church buildings and organisations out of which we evangelise the world.  On this missio-logic, an ‘evangelism rooted in economics’ makes sense; a missio economics with its end goal to sustain our current churches – many that are dying – and plant more churches which all costs money.  Money that, as Deymaz and Li rightly point out, will be harder and harder to come by with tithes and offerings alone.

I have said something about this notion of doing church in my blog When the Church Left the Building – reflections on COVID-19 and the digital streamed church from Bonhoeffer’s Gestapo “lock down”

Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” In other words, put your money where your mouth is; use what we have to help others and not just ourselves. What we do says far more than what we say (James 2:14-17).  

Don’t get me wrong.  I support church bricks and mortar and spend much of my time working out how we can make it sustainable. But there is more to church and there is more to mission than the economics of church – whatever that looks like.  And I’m not just thinking of replacing or blending bricks with clicks

Even so… the reality is that much of what we do and see of church in our time is very much rooted in this economics of church buildings so it’s important to get our bearings right.

In my next blog in this series of Church Economics, I will look at the two key determinants of church financial sustainability put forward by Deymaz and Li – church attendance and tithes and offerings.


  1. Church sustainability is defined as church attendance and tithes and offerings. Mark Deymaz with Harry Li, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes and Offerings Are No Longer Enough, and What You Can Do About It, baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2019, 19.
  2. Mark Deymaz with Harry Li, 2019, 27-39.
  3. Mark Deymaz with Harry Li, 2019, 20; 58-64.
  4. Mark Deymaz with Harry Li, 2019, 63.
  5. Mark Deymaz with Harry Li, 2019, 62.
  6. Often pastors spouses, invariably women in many churches, are part of the ministry team. But unlike their husbands, they are often not paid.
  7. The actual quote is a little different but with the same intent – see https://www.huffpost.com/entry/preach-the-gospel-at-all-times-st-francis_b_1627781

Next blog – Economics 102: The gospel of the consumer church market – 23 July 2021

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Categories: Church, Mission, Money

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  1. Church Economics 104 – The myth that we have always paid for our church buildings – Sacred Cash Cows
  2. The Post Covid Church. Part I – Two emerging trends that will accelerate church disruption – Sacred Cash Cows

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