“People find a sense of meaning when they give to a cause they believe in,” says Dr. John Farquhar Plake, co-author of the American Bible Society’s new study, State of the Bible, which explores the idea that actively reading the Bible moves people to give and support causes they believe in.
Highlighting cultural trends in the U.S. regarding spirituality and Scripture engagement, the study shows that Americans who consistently read and apply the Bible’s message—those who are “Scripture Engaged”—gave $145 billion to charitable causes in 2021. This estimated total is more than three times the amount given by those who are not reading the Bible, meaning that 44 cents of every dollar given to charity in America comes from individuals who are actively and consistently engaging with the Bible.
Plake, the Society’s Vice President of Ministry Insights and Innovation, says the findings confirm a trend, showing a strong correlation between charitable giving and human flourishing, and that active engagement with the Bible leads to greater hope and resilience. Nearly three out of five Scripture-engaged Americans in 2021 reported giving at a higher level than their counterparts, those who less frequently open their Bibles. The study also finds that not only do those engaged with the Bible give more in general; they donate 13 times more than others to non-church charities.
While the last three years of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions have resulted in less giving in America, Plake argues the real surprise is that, despite the associated hardships, so many people chose to continue giving. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy reported the total amount given among Americans in 2021 was at $484.85 billion, including $326.87 billion from individuals, resulting in a 3-percent rise from the previous year. As people lost jobs, closed businesses, and cut their working hours and spending throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the data shows that they did not short-change charity. Even as churches were forced to close or move online, people continued giving.
Concerning generational trends, State of the Bible researchers found that older people are more likely to give: five out of six Elders—aged 77 or older–give to charity, compared to only half of Generation Z (ages 18-26). The study finds that between each generation there is a clear “stair step effect” that increases the total proportion of givers, which can be attributed in part to age-based income levels. As for Generation X—those born between 1965-1980—the evidence shows that while it has the highest income nationally, it gives less than the older generations, suggesting there may be a cultural commitment to supporting charitable organizations or churches that is not yet ingrained in younger generations.
Plake believes that perhaps two things are true: charity creates a feeling of hope, flourishing, and purpose—and that those who are flourishing and hopeful desire to share their resources with others. Whichever perspective one takes from the data, he says, the evidence seems clear: People live well when they give well.
The State of the Bible 2022 findings come from a survey in January 2022 conducted by American Bible Society in collaboration with NORC at the University of Chicago, which produced 2,598 online or telephone responses from American adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
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