At St. Cecilia Cathedral, the Rev. Damien Cook receives a collection envelope from 20-month-old Sadie Kirschenman.
And, she said, unlike her hometown priest, "it isn't the only thing he talks about."
Still, Kirschenman said, she has mixed emotions when Hunke begins a homily about money at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.
"There's some guilt that you don't do enough," she said. "And yet you don't want to hear about it."
Kirschenman isn't alone. According to a recent Lutheran Brotherhood survey, half of Christians think that money and material possessions should not be discussed in church.
Pastors also shy away from the subject, researchers say, even though money is one of the most frequently discussed topics in the Bible.
Money won't be on today's agenda. Collection plates on Easter usually overflow, and preaching focuses on the Resurrection.
On Monday, however, pastors must once again worry about ever-rising costs, growing competition for the religious dollar and the fact that religious giving hasn't kept up with inflation over time.
And if they are mainline Protestant or... Catholic pastors - shepherds for the vast majority of Midlands churchgoers - they also must contend with rates of giving that researchers say lag behind those of conservative Protestants.
"Pastors are going to have to confront the issue of money more and more," said the Rev. Bob Folkers, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Bellevue. If not from the pulpit, he said, "then one on one."
Most churches rely on pledges, annual appeals and weekly envelopes to raise money. Whether these techniques, which came into vogue in the early decades of the 20th century, can meet the needs of the 21st century church remains to be seen.
Studies indicate that Americans direct the majority - 63 percent - of their philanthropic dollars to churches, which is good news for them.
But other less-encouraging trends have emerged.
Per-member giving as a percentage of income, for example, decreased from 3.1 percent in 1968 to 2.6 percent in 1997 among the 29 Protestant denominations that report annual financial information to the National Council of Churches' "Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches," said researchers John and Sylvia Ronsvalle.
Protestants also are keeping more of their dollars at home, a trend that puts denominational bureaucracies and programs at risk.
Studies also indicate that roughly 75 percent of money is given by 25 percent of the people, and that giving levels vary greatly from denomination to denomination.
According to researchers Dean Hoge, Patrick McNamara, Charles Zech and Michael Donahue, conservative Protestants give more than 3 percent of household income on average; black Protestants, 2.5 percent; mainline Protestants, 2 percent; Catholics, less than 1.5 percent; and other denominations, less than 1 percent.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Assemblies of God and the Seventh-day Adventist Church head the giving parade.
About 30 percent to 45 percent of Latter-day Saints, for example, tithe the 10 percent mentioned in the Bible.
Per-capita giving in the Assemblies of God exceeds 5 percent. Adventists give more than 4 percent of their income.
Jewish per-family giving rivals that of Latter-day Saints, said Hoge, McNamara, Zech and Donahue. But the two are not comparable since Jews give more to secular Jewish federations than to synagogues, they said.
The lower level of Catholic giving has puzzled just about everyone.
According to a 1996 study of giving in the... Catholic Church and four other denominations by Hoge and his fellow researchers, several commonly given reasons do not hold up.
It is not true, they said, that Catholics give less than Protestants because Catholics are angrier with their leaders or because Catholic parishes are less democratic in decision-making.
Other unfounded assumptions are that Catholics give less to their churches because they give more to nonparish causes than Protestants and because they send their children to parochial schools in greater numbers, the researchers said.
Catholic families with children in school give more, not less, than other Catholic families, the researchers said. And Catholic giving to Catholic causes outside the parish "is no higher than its equivalent in the other four denominations," Hoge, Donahue, McNamara and Zech said.
Lower rates of giving seem to be related to two institutional factors:
Catholics emphasize stewardship and individual giving less than Protestants. "We found that a substantial percentage of Catholic parishioners do not even know whether or not their parish has such an emphasis," the researchers said.
Catholic parishes are less likely than Protestant congregations to use pledge cards so that members can put in writing what they intend to give for the coming year.
Both factors are true of the Archdiocese of Omaha, said the Rev. Michael Gutgsell, chancellor.
For decades Catholics relied on priests and nuns to run parishes and schools, he said. While this low-cost work force kept overhead down, it didn't foster a "giving kind of mindset," Gutgsell said.
In addition, Gutgsell said, Catholic parishes are larger and thus operate on less money per church member.
Studies indicate that Catholic parishes are eight times the size of a Protestant congregation on the average.
Operating costs vary dramatically - $15 to $22 a week for each person attending worship service in mainline Protestant congregations compared with $5.44 a person in Catholic congregations, researchers said.
"Knowledge of these lower costs among Catholics may be a factor in the lower level of Catholic giving," Hoge and his fellow researchers said.
Pledging or planned giving is one of three factors generally associated with higher levels of giving. Family income and congregational involvement are the others.
People with more money give more, Hoge and his fellow researchers said. People who are actively involved in congregational life give more.
For example, Catholics who go to church about once a week give more than twice as much as those who attend two to three times a month, the researchers said.
If Catholics have come belatedly to the systematic-giving table, they are making up for lost time.
The Archdiocese of Omaha has sent two groups of priests to stewardship workshops put on by the International Catholic Stewardship Conference in Washington, D.C. It will send a third group this summer.
Hunke went in January, even though he had already moved in that direction by creating a new stewardship and development post at St. Cecilia and hiring Jeremy Belsky as director.
The move seems to have paid off. St. Cecilia is ahead of budget this year, Hunke said.
Churches face competition for the religious dollar from independent organizations such as World Vision, Compassion in Action, Youth for Christ/USA and Bread for the World, which raise operating funds independent of denominations.
But, said church consultant Lyle Schaller, it is also true that giving increases when parishioners have various causes from which to choose.
Folkers, the pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Bellevue, has found this to be the case.
St. James laypeople who are reluctant to send money up the line to the general church gladly give to Habitat for Humanity building projects or to flood-relief efforts in Mozambique or to the pastor's discretionary fund for local people who need help, Folkers said.
Why? Accountability, Folkers said.
"If the average Joe in the pew can track his money and see the good it's doing, he'll give," Folkers said. "Seeing money going to help people - that's the concern."
Theological teachings also make a difference in giving.
Latter-day Saints and the Assemblies of God teach that tithing is obligatory, whereas most mainline Protestants and Catholics stress proportionate giving.
"Tithing a full 10 percent is a commandment," said D. Spencer Nilson, director of the Mormon Trail Center in Omaha. "And obedience is the first law of the Gospel."
Latter-day Saints go before their bishops every year and account for their giving. Those who haven't tithed the full 10 percent can't go to the temple.
Assemblies of God pastors who do not pay yearly tithes to their district offices lose their credentials.
But, said the Rev. Dave Argue, pastor of Christ's Place Assembly of God Church in Lincoln, tithing has its own rewards.
"The issue of giving is an issue of faith and partnership with God," he said. "If we give to God out of a heart of gratitude and a spirit that recognizes that all we have is His, we participate with Him. It causes us to abound in everything. We don't give so we'll get. That's wrong. But when you give, the Lord loves to surprise people."
Most researchers agree that instilling an attitude of stewardship is difficult and must be done over a period of years.
St. Cecilia is starting early.
At the beginning of the school year, Belsky, the stewardship director, went to St. Cecilia grade school and taught the children how to use offering envelopes. During each Mass, time is set aside for children to come to the front of the church and drop their offering envelopes in a basket.
"It gets them into a good habit," Belsky said.
Deborah Kirschenman, the St. Cecilia parishioner, hopes that is so. Her 20-month-daughter, Sadie, is among the scores of toddlers who make their way to the front of the church with their collection envelopes each week.
Kirschenman said she and her husband, David, pledge a portion of their income each year rather than tithe.
"We give what we can," she said. "It's a rare person who gives 10 percent. I applaud them, however."
BOSTON -- When it comes to charity, Mississippi and Utah are mighty generous. And Massachusetts is mighty miserly.
A swath of relatively poor Bible Belt states, led by Mississippi, head a "Generosity Index" released Monday that ranks the largesse of residents of the 50 states.
Wealthy New England, meanwhile -- despite an explosion of new-economy money -- lags well behind, with stingy Massachusetts finishing dead last for the fourth time in six years.
"Some people think it's Yankee thrift in action," said George McCully, a member of the Committee to Encourage Charitable Giving, one of the groups releasing the data.
The survey, compiled by the Urban Institute's National Center for Charitable Statistics, analyzed tax returns from 1998 to compare each state's average adjusted gross income with its average itemized charitable deduction.
The survey compared the state rankings in those categories, to account for the fact that it compared average income of all residents with charitable giving data only on those who itemize -- about one in four. But those who itemize account for about 80 percent of charitable giving.
Those who compiled the data admit the method is imperfect, and doesn't account for things such as volunteering. But they say it offers a reasonable comparison between how much people make and how much they give away.
As with previous surveys, this one suggests that how much people make has little to do with how much of their income they give away.
Instead, states fell into three basic categories. Most generous were Bible Belt states, plus Utah, where large numbers of evangelical Christians [primarily Latter-day Saints] tithe. After Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, Louisiana, Tennessee and Alabama led in generosity.
Most states fell in an amorphous middle group, but New England states clustered near the bottom, with Connecticut and Rhode Island finishing 45th and 46th, and New Hampshire and Rhode Island finishing 49th and 50th.
The survey reveals striking differences. In Mississippi, average adjusted income was $31,056, and the average itemized charitable contribution was $4,070. In Massachusetts, average income was $51,812, but the average itemized gift was just $2,645.
How to explain the difference? Experts at Monday's announcement said cost of living and state tax laws play some role, as do religious differences -- New England has a higher percentage of Catholics, who they said are less likely to give to churches than are Bible Belt Protestants.
But McCully said there is also clearly a cultural difference when it comes to giving.
"You talk about Southern hospitality," McCully said. "How many people have ever heard of New England hospitality?"
When the offering plate is passed, America's churches are collecting more dollars than ever, but a new study has found a disturbing trend.
While real-dollar growth over the past 30 years has been impressive, churchgoers are tightening their purse strings.
Measured as a percentage of disposable income, both mainline Protestants and evangelicals gave less in 1998 than they did in 1968. The picture was even grimmer for 10 mainline Protestant denominations and the Southern Baptist Convention, which were examined in more detail. Their percentage of giving in 1998 was lower than it had been even in 1933 during the darkest days of the Depression.
Equally disturbing, most of the money churches are raising is being spent on salaries, in-house programs and building maintenance. The percentage left over for programs for those on the outside--such as soup kitchens, evangelism and missions--is shrinking by the year.
"Leadership in the church is committed to institutional maintenance and is abandoning church members to an agenda of a consumer lifestyle. Leaders are not helping members integrate their faith with their money," according to Sylvia Ronsvalle, who co-wrote the study with her husband, John L. Ronsvalle. "As a consequence, the church is being perceived increasingly as irrelevant," she said.
The report warned that if the trend continues, congregations will be spending "little to nothing on others by the middle of this century."
"The State of Church Giving Through 1998" tracked a composite group of 30 mainline Protestant and evangelical denominations with 29.3 million members representing 100,000 U.S. congregations out of a total 350,000. It was published by empty tomb inc., a Champaign, Ill., research group.
The amount of giving looks good on the surface, the report found. The denominations received $17.2 billion in contributions in 1998, compared with $2.7 billion in 1968. Stated in terms of 1996 dollars to adjust for inflation, the numbers are equivalent to an increase from $10.2 billion to $16.7 billion.
But that increase has not kept pace with the increasing incomes of congregants. On average, churchgoers were giving just 2.52% of their after-tax income to churches in 1998, compared with 3.10% in 1968. Either way, that is a far cry from the biblical standard of giving a tithe--10%.
For the 10 mainline Protestant denominations that were examined more closely, the 2.52% percentage for giving marked a 31-year low. The 10 are American Baptist Churches, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. The Southern Baptist Convention is not considered by the authors to be a mainline Protestant body, but it was also examined closely.
Findings Support Informal Conclusions
Southern California clergy members said this week that the findings reflect many of their own conclusions, although most were not able to cite numbers to make their case.
"A lot of money goes for keeping the doors open," said Jetty Fong, administrator at Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles in Rosemead. But she said the 300-member congregation, with an annual budget of less than $1 million, still supports an orphanage in Japan, a hospital in Haiti and outreach efforts in Mexico and China.
At Hollywood First United Methodist Church, the $480,000 annual budget is raised largely by renting buildings to an elementary school and a theater group. Members contribute $120,000.
"People's incomes are going up, but I think they're spending money in lots of other ways as well," said the Rev. Edward Hansen, senior pastor. "The percentage of their income giving doesn't look like it's going up.
"In times of national emergency or crisis, people become more aware of their priorities, and sometimes even though financial things are more difficult, their giving proportionately might be actually more," Hansen said. "When things are going very well, I think we let our priorities slide a bit and maybe we are more focused in enjoying life, going to movies, or dinner at the restaurant or purchasing items we've postponed purchasing."
Churches are used to tapping very wealthy individuals in their congregations, the report said. But they are less comfortable asking the relatively well-off middle class.
"Americans live a fantasy of enjoying great wealth while denying the reality," the authors wrote. "Consumer debt is a choice, similar to investments. Having money tied up in credit cards, or in the stock market, does not change the fact that a person has resources; these commitments only describe how that person has chosen to spend them."
They noted that although Americans tend to look to big names like Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, to define wealth, "rich" is a relative term. Almost half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day, they said, quoting a World Bank report for 2000-2001.
In some cases, however, it is the less well-off who give greater proportions of their incomes to churches--a phenomenon that recalls the New Testament story of the poor widow who gave all she had--two small copper coins.
"Giving to charitable causes in general and religious causes in particular is inversely proportional to income," said the Rev. David Wheeler, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Los Angeles.
Wheeler said he is finding that to be the case at his downtown congregation, where the demographics have been changing to include more members of ethnic minorities.
The report said that if U.S. church members had been giving an average of 10% of after-tax income in 1998, another $131 billion would have flowed into church coffers to meet the needs of the poor. Those funds would go far in a world where 30,000 children die each day, many from conditions that would cost relatively little to correct, the authors noted.
Various Approaches in Raising Funds
Churches use different approaches to raise funds. All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena has a very sophisticated and media-savvy campaign to encourage its membership to increase pledges each year. The pledge card includes a box to be checked if the giver wishes the church to know that the pledge represents 10%--a tithe.
But Evergreen Baptist Church has no fund-raising drive of any kind. "We try to educate our congregation about stewardship, but don't have direct appeals. We don't have annual pledge drives. . . . Everyone gives what we call sacrificially, and they give from their resources and their heart. We just pray a lot and trust our budget is going to be met," Fong said.
Church members usually do not like to talk about money, and many pastors are poorly equipped to push the issue, the report said.
That, of course, is not the case for some denominations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for example, expects members to contribute a full 10% of their incomes, barring mitigating circumstances.
Each year, members meet with their local bishop and are asked if their contributions represent full tithes, according to Los Angeles stake President Michael J. Fairclough. If a member says no, the bishop asks if the family would like to increase its giving. If members can't, the issue isn't pushed.
But, failure to pay a full tithe, unless there are mitigating circumstances, could result in a member's being barred from the temple, where rituals central to the [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] are conducted.
"I've seen no sign of any slowdown in giving," Fairclough said. "It's a 10% commandment as far as we're concerned, and the faithful members of the church continue to pay it." In addition, he said Latter-day Saints give "fast offerings" each month specifically earmarked for helping the poor, regardless of faith.
Highlights of the Report
* Per-member giving increased from $367.79 to $569.81 in inflation-adjusted dollars, an increase of 55% from 1968 to 1998.
* U.S. per capita disposable (after-tax) income increased 91% in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $11,864 in 1968 to $22,637 in 1998.
* Per-member giving as a percentage of income declined from 3.10% in 1968 to 2.52% in 1998, a decline of 19%.
Source: The State of Church Giving Through 1998