The Graduated Tithe – A Good Alternative to Tithing?

Corey —  January 20, 2014 — 18 Comments

       I’ve written a good bit of material designed to free people from the idea that the tithe is something they must do under threat of a curse from God. The giving standards in the New Testament are very different (and actually much more challenging) than those in the Old Testament. The teachings and example of Christ guide us into a mindset of giving that’s based on love for God and others – not just promises of blessings or threats of a curse.

       But I also understand why some people like to use the tithe as their standard of giving. It’s simple, straightforward, and gives you a guideline you can start using right away. (Assuming, of course, that you don’t try to set up a ton of rules to help you figure out how to tithe just right.) Freewill, sacrificial, generous giving motivated by love just isn’t quite as easy to figure out as a flat 10%.

       I came across a concept that I think can be helpful as a starting point – a way to think and pray about giving that will help you figure out what God wants you to do in your situation while also protecting yourself from lifestyle inflation. It’s called graduated tithing. The name aside, I think it can be a good way to think about your giving. Coming up with your own plan gives you an opportunity to consciously seek God’s will for your giving. Let’s look at it in more depth.

The Graduated Tithe

       I first came across the idea in an article that Craig wrote at Money Help for Christians. The concept of the graduated tithe seems to have originated with Ronald Sider in his book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity.

       Ron explains it this way. First, you start with a base amount. His family decided on a base figure that includes the current poverty level for his family’s size, plus costs for Christian education and college expenses, plus taxes, plus genuine emergencies. His family tries to give 10% of that base amount. Then, for each $1,000 of income above that base amount, they give an additional 5%. An example will help you see what I’m talking about.

       Let’s say you choose a base amount of $40,000. Here is what your graduated tithe (or giving system) would look like:

Income % to Give $ to Give Total Income Total $ Given Total % Given
$40,000 10% $4,000 $40,000 $4,000 10.0%
next $1,000 15% $150 $41,000 $4,150 10.1%
next $1,000 20% $200 $42,000 $4,350 10.4%
next $1,000 25% $250 $43,000 $4,600 10.7%
next $1,000 30% $300 $44,000 $4,900 11.1%
next $1,000 35% $350 $45,000 $5,250 11.7%
next $1,000 40% $400 $46,000 $5,650 12.3%
next $1,000 45% $450 $47,000 $6,100 13.0%
next $1,000 50% $500 $48,000 $6,600 13.8%
next $1,000 55% $550 $49,000 $7,150 14.6%
next $1,000 60% $600 $50,000 $7,750 15.5%
next $1,000 65% $650 $51,000 $8,400 16.5%
next $1,000 70% $700 $52,000 $9,100 17.5%
next $1,000 75% $750 $53,000 $9,850 18.6%
next $1,000 80% $800 $54,000 $10,650 19.7%
next $1,000 85% $850 $55,000 $11,500 20.9%
next $1,000 90% $900 $56,000 $12,400 22.1%
next $1,000 95% $950 $57,000 $13,350 23.4%
next $1,000 100% $1,000 $58,000 $14,350 24.7%



       After you reach a total income of $57,000, you’ll be giving away 100% of any additional money you earn. If your income was $75,000, you’d be giving $31,350 under this system – a little over 40%. At $100,000, you’d be giving away $56,350 or just over 56%.

       To use the graduated tithe (or giving system, I just like that better), you’d want to update your base amount every year. This will help account for changes in your personal situation, taxes, and most importantly – God’s will. He may lead you to give more in some years by choosing a lower base amount or to give less by choosing a higher base amount.

A Few Caveats About the Graduated Tithe

       I share this idea with you not to enforce a legalistic standard but to offer an alternative that will help you focus on giving more and not becoming greedy as your income rises. If you decide to use the graduated tithe, you should be very careful if it makes you begrudge giving and takes away the joy of sharing. If you don’t have love and give cheerfully, it’s not going to matter how much you give. In that case, you’re going to have to seek God’s heart and ask Him to help you have His love develop in you.

       Also, you should use this example as a guide – not a law. If your family is in a situation where this can’t work for you right now, then adapt it to fit God’s will for your giving. You’ll need to go through this planning process with a lot of prayer and request guidance from the Holy Spirit, but it can be something that helps you give generously in your situation.

       I really want to emphasize the fact that you need to seek God’s will on this. You shouldn’t use the tithe, the graduate tithe, or any other giving system as a replacement for prayer and discernment. God will guide you as you seek to please Him. Make that your primary goal and He’ll help you figure out what the right amount is for you.

Your Thoughts

       What do you think of the graduated tithe? Let me know in the comments below!

This article was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance as an editor’s pick!

Corey

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Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.

18 responses to The Graduated Tithe – A Good Alternative to Tithing?

  1. I think it’s a good way to meet a goal for giving. If you have a goal of giving away 57% when you make $100,000 then this giving scale is a great way to do that!

    Of course, I agree with your caveats. Giving shouldn’t be something you do just to meet a number or percentage. It should align with what you’ve felt God asking you to give.

    Great ideas here Paul!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Tim! I think a graduated system like this can be very helpful in making sure we don’t get caught up in chasing earthly possessions over heavenly ones. The caveats are very important. If you’re just following a giving system (the “tithe” or a graduated system like this) without prayer and seeking God’s will, then your giving is just robotic. It can then be easy to lose the joy in giving because you don’t put much thought into it.

  3. Paul,
    Thanks for this article.
    It has been almost 3 years since my wife and I prayerfully decided to use the graduated tithe. We don’t do it legalistically, but it really fits with our structured personalities.
    Honestly, I think it was one of the best decisions we’ve made. Since deciding to do the graduated tithe our income has constantly been increasing. I’m afraid that we might have just increased our lifestyle had we not made this covenant to each other. However, this way we’ve been blessed through the joy of giving.
    I highly recommend the graduated tithe.

  4. Thanks for offering your perspective on it, Craig! As I said in the article, I first heard of this on your site. I’m glad to hear it’s working for you and your wife, especially as you shared recently on Money Help for Christians about the struggles with wanting to increase your lifestyle as your income increases. Sounds like it’s an effective way to protect against lifestyle inflation and replace it instead with giving inflation. :)

  5. We aren’t nearly as structured, but my wife and I keep a cash fund available (part of our budgeted envelope system) that we call our “bless envelope” to be used any time we see someone in need. This is above our normal tithe and is a fun way to be able to help others in ways we probably couldn’t or wouldn’t if we hadn’t planned for it.

  6. I think that’s a good way to be ready to give when the Lord presents opportunities, Joe. If you’ve already given away everything you’ve budgeted, you might not be able to personally help someone that God sends to you. Could be a lost chance to share with someone (not that you can’t help in non-monetary ways, but it is definitely one aspect of helping!).

  7. Thanks for this post! It is really something to consider. We currently are 10% people but this might be something for us to prayerfully consider.

  8. I am wondering how this works on a weekly basis. Do you just tithe 10% until you hit that base level? At our house, we tithe on the gross, but about $220 a week goes for health insurance and taxes. So how do you know when you hit it, and then how do you adjust your budget? We raised a family of 5 on around $50,000 a year, so that would probably be our base level. Interesting concept, but I am not sure how it would work on a practical level. Feedback welcome!

  9. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Zina! This is certainly a much more challenging way to give, but as I said before it should be entered carefully. Prayer is the perfect way to being considering such a giving plan. Blessings to you!

  10. Hi, Cheryl! Thanks for commenting. I didn’t think of it in the terms you did. I would estimate my annual income, figure out how much I’d be giving on an annual basis, and then divide that into a weekly amount. Then I’d adjust every couple months or so as I got a better feel for my annual income. Most people can estimate what they’ll make in a year pretty well, but even with a variable income you can start with a best guess and go from there. I wouldn’t worry too much about getting it exactly right. Do your best and your generous attitude will be the gift that pleases God.

  11. I just came across your blog it is very wonderful. I always struggled with the tithe whether its a requirement or not. My church preaches that the tithe is important I of course disagree. I went from a tithing, then stopped tithing, recently came back tithing + giving with joy. I tithe my net, i’m in a unique situation. I live in NYC which can be an expensive place to live but love living here. with what I earn I help my parents around the house, I give offering and I give to those in need,. I find that it easily breaks the 10% min. I find that I am happier it gives me joy to give. If we can just preach about the joy of giving instead of the tithe that would be very liberating. Thank you for your encouragement.

  12.  Completely agree, Eddie!  I’m glad you’ve found the joy of giving now.  That is my goal in teaching against tithing.  I’m not against giving at all.  I just think we have a better example and source of motivation in Jesus Christ.  Giving that is based on God’s love in us pouring out to others will far exceed giving based on a system of tithing and percentages.

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