- America’s largest three religious groups are Christians, Jews, and Muslims (excluding “unaffiliated”).
- The average member of those three groups, on average, gives at least $800 annually to their church, mosque, or synagogue.
- A surprising number of people feel pressured to give more — and some consider leaving their religion because of it.
The United States is a very religious country, relative to other developed nations. Religion is and has been a cornerstone of our country, and even though America’s “religiosity” has been on a downward trend in recent decades, it remains one of the most important elements of modern life for a majority of American households. But even the church (in any and all forms) has a business element to it. Religions require funding to provide for adherents, and that means producing some sort of revenue to keep up.
Whether you practice in a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, money is required to keep the doors open and the lights on. Many churches and individual faith centers also have full-time staff and marketing efforts. They need money, and while religious groups and individual houses of worship can’t operate like a traditional business (for fear of relinquishing their tax-exempt status), they need to raise funds somehow.
That’s where individuals come in. The average American donates hundreds of dollars per year to their place of worship, and some more than others. As for how much, exactly, people are giving? We have some answers thanks to a new report from LendEDU. “We polled 1,000 religiously affiliated Americans who indicated that they did contribute financially to their respective religions to determine the financial impact of their religious affiliations,” the report says. “Our goal was to take an objective approach to gauge consumers’ financial contributions to their respective religions, but also to understand the impact this cost has on their daily lives.”
We’ll get into who gives the most, who is the stingiest, and how much it takes to remain an active member of your religious community.
First: A breakdown of America’s biggest religions, by population percentage.
Religion in America: A Breakdown
- Christians, Jews, and Muslims make up the majority of America’s religious groups — but not by much.
First, we’re going to give you a snapshot of the religious breakdown in America. One group dominates the rest — Christians — of which more than 70% of the American population describes itself as. The next largest group is “unaffiliated”, which we can read as atheists, agnostics, or otherwise unaffiliated with any church. For our purposes, we’ll exclude this group, as they’re not typically donating or financing their houses of worship.
The next two biggest groups are those who practice Judaism (1.9% of the American population) and Islam (0.9%). Together with Christians, these are the biggest three, though “other faiths” is listed at 1.5%, and both Buddhists and Hindus come in at 0.7%.
Next: How much groups give to their places of worship.
Giving by religious group: Christians
- Christians, on average, donate $817.42 to their churches per year.
We’ll start off with Christians, who again, make up 70% of the U.S. populace. Though our data shows that the average Christian donates more than $817 per year, Christians are actually the stingiest of our “big three”. While donating over $800 per year is nothing to sneeze at, it’s a figure that actually lags well behind our next two religious groups, which you’ll see in a second.
Next: How much Muslims give annually.
- On average, Muslims donate $1,309.23 annually.
Americans who practice Islam donate more than $1,300 per year to their mosques and places of worship. As discussed, this is a significantly higher amount than the average Christian. We don’t know why the average Muslim gives more (our data gives us some hints, which we’ll discuss), but the raw numbers bear it out. Muslims, however, were also beat out by our third group.
Next: Practitioners of Judaism.
- Jews donate $1,442.91 on average every year — the most of the big three.
When it comes to donating money to their places of worship, Jews win out. The average Jewish household donates more than $1,440 in the average year to their synagogue. This is more than the average Muslim, as we just discussed, and nearly twice as much as the average Christian gives to their church. But keep in mind that this is what people are donating — and donations are only a portion of what people are giving over the course of a year.
Next: Donations aside, how much are people paying to participate in their chosen religion?
Total cost of participating in a religion
- Monetary donations excluded, Christians have the least-expensive obligations.
When we put the voluntary donations aside, our data shows that people are still giving significant portions of their income to their chosen places of worship. When asked the question: “On average, what is the total yearly cost of participating in your religion?”, we saw a similar pattern as we did with donations. Christians answered with an average of $335.08, the least by far. Jews, on the other hand, had an average answer of $1,181.78 — which was topped by Muslims with an average of $1,313.26.
Next: Where does all the money go?
Where the money goes
- All of that money pays for a variety of things in and around a respective house of worship.
It’s the big question: Where does all of this money go? Like a nonprofit, it goes back into the church, synagogue, or mosque. As far as we know, anyway. When asked, respondents said that the majority of the money is spent helping members and nonmembers in need, improving and maintaining facilities, throwing community events, and taking care of religious leadership. Again, though, this was to the “best of their knowledge.” Significant percentages also answered “I don’t know”.
Finally: Is the pressure to pony up pushing people away from certain religions?
Too expensive to practice?
- More than a quarter of Muslims and Jews have distanced themselves from their religion “due to the financial cost of practicing”.
One final interesting caveat in the data was how the costs of practicing can have an impact on an individual’s desire to keep worshiping. While majorities of all three religions said that they didn’t have second thoughts about distancing themselves due to the financial costs of attending their place of worship, a lot did. In the Muslim and Jewish communities, more than a quarter of respondents answered that they had backed off due to the financial responsibilities. For Christians, though, only 16% said they had — but they also have a much lower financial obligation.
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