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Dr. Steve McSwain
 You're here » Christian Columns Index » Guest Writer

Why Religious People Still Trust Their Houses of Worship with Financial Support
by Dr. Steve McSwain
December 17, 2007
Category: Christian Living
THE LION-SHARE OF charity is given each year by individuals. This year will be no exception and, by far, the largest percentage of it will be directed to churches, synagogues and temples. With the abuses of televangelists over the years and the reports of abuse by clergy reported almost daily, why do religious people continue to support their agencies and houses of worship?

1. Most religious people give to their church, synagogue or temple, first and foremost, as an act of personal devotion. That means they view their charity as a spiritual exchange--a kind of human/divine connection. That gives their charitable inclinations an indomitable quality capable of surviving setbacks-- even scandals.

When this is not the case, however, and charitable giving is done for any reason other than this, their charitable spirit is vulnerable to scandal and will quickly lose its enduring capacity. A spiritual motivation is the highest motivation to give. As long as it stays that way, generosity will abound.

2. Religious people, whose giving to houses of worship constitute a staggering thirty-two percent of the total given to charity last year - or, nearly $100 billion of the $300 billion given, do so simply because they believe their gifts support ministries and services that are having a positive impact on their culture and community. If religious leaders will make it their aim to provide visible evidence that a donor's generosity is being invested in worthwhile causes, these religious leaders and their agencies will always have the donor's financial support. The converse, however, is equally true. Religious leaders may be saying to donors, "Show us the money!" but donors will always say, "Show me the results!" The more a donor knows, the more a donor gives.

3. Fraud, waste, and organizational inefficiency will kill a public charity, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported (12/10/07). And, while the same can have a devastating impact on a church, synagogue, or temple, the consequences are not normally as terminal. This is not true of media ministries, however. They operate more like public charities. At first, religious people may give to these charismatic personalities but, once they are exposed for fraud, extravagance, or operational inefficiency, donors will jump ship just as quickly as they do with any other public charity.

Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, once the stars of religious programming, have both made recent attempts with only modest success at resurrecting their television ministries. It will take nothing short of a miracle to do so, however. They have lost the status they once enjoyed and will never again have it.

Religious leaders should be transparent with ALL financial matters. By and large, people want to trust their religious leaders and agencies to do the right thing. Therefore, leaders must guard against anything that would undermine that sacred trust.

In recent years, for example, there's been a tendency in some agencies to become more secretive with things like clergy salaries and expenditures, on the argument that clergy deserve to enjoy privacy and shouldn't have their salaries publicly disclosed. This is nonsense and only succeeds in creating suspicion.

In many places, the real reason salaries are not openly revealed is because they are higher than the majority of worshipers enjoy themselves. Religious organizations must make available to every donor a complete accounting of every penny generously entrusted them. This will succeed in building on a foundation of trust that already exists.

4. Religious people who regularly practice generosity are healthier and happier people. Recently, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, studied the brain activity of nineteen men and women each of whom was given 128 dollars and asked to make decisions about whether to keep it all or give some or all of it away. Most chose to give it away and researchers discovered that giving, even when it did not cost the donor anything personal still activated two areas of the brain. One is that region of the brain that enables people to form and maintain meaningful relationships. The other area is where the chemical dopamine is produced which gives pleasurable feelings during activities like eating.

The study concluded, when people give, they not only feel better, they are better. Generous people have known this centuries, if only innately. The spiritual leader himself once said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." It's as if a spirit of giving is written into the DNA of every person. Giving is the principle purpose of human existence, as I describe in greater detail in the book, The Giving Myths: Giving then Getting the Life You've Always Wanted. The life everyone really wants is not found in getting, but in giving. Not a terribly bad thought to remember this holiday season.

Dr. Steve McSwain is Senior Vice President of Cargill Associates, Inc., an industry leader in philanthropy and fundraising with more than 30 years of service, thousands of clients, and billions raised for charitable causes. He is an expert in the fields of philanthropy, annual and capital fundraising, personal growth, and spiritual development. A dynamic communicator, Dr. McSwain speaks to thousands each year on how to find the meaning of life in giving yourself away and sharing your abundance with the world.

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