Does It Matter How You Tithe?

Our parish is deploying “e-giving”, and asking people to strongly consider setting up a weekly or monthly electronic donation rather than getting envelopes. (If you sign up for the e-giving, they stop mailing you envelopes.)

The benefits for the parish are pretty obvious: the expense of sending out envelopes to nearly a thousand families are pretty high, this regularizes their income and makes it smoother and more predictable, etc. In my case, there’s actually an additional incentive to give electronically — if I have the money deducted directly from my paycheck through my company’s charitable giving campaign, they’ll match my donations, doubling the amount.

I have a certain amount from each paycheck set up to be sent to the parish through the corporate matching program, but up till now I’ve been hesitant to do all our tithing that way. There are two reasons for this:

1) When donations are made via withholding, it becomes nearly invisible to us, our income is simply lower. It seems to me that there is probably some personal and moral value in accepting the discipline of having to set aside some of the money that actually hits our bank account for the parish and other donation recipients, rather than simply having it all happen out of our sight. The fact that we could simply use the cash some other way in a tight pay period seems like it makes the action more real.

2) As parents, we’re not simply doing things for our own benefit, we also have to be conscious of how our actions model what we believe is moral living to our children. They’re already required to put a portion of their allowances into the collection basket each week, but it seems like it is probably also good for them to see us actually writing a check to put in the basket. I remember being staggered at seeing my father write checks for what seemed to me princely sums such as $30 when I was a child, and having looked over my dad’s shoulder as a child when he was writing checks before mass or during the sermon gave me a sense of what was expected of me when I was living on my own. I wouldn’t want the kids to think that giving money to the church is one of those things which children are required to do but adults don’t bother with — and having them sit down with me once a year to set up charity witholding and file my taxes does not seem like a substitute for actually seeing one’s parents spend real money every week on supporting the parish.

I see a certain value to 1), but I think it’s easily outweighed by the fact that my employer would double my donations. The parish getting twice as much money seems a fairly major incentive. However, I’m not sure how much weight to give to 2). I’m strongly conscious of the fact that while we as adults have difficulty feeling the same about more abstract processes such as electronic tithing via paycheck witholding, it’s necessarily entirely invisible to children. And I put a very high value on forming our children correcting in Christian living.

Thoughts? Has anyone else struggled with this question, and what sort of resolution did you come to, for what reasons?

  1. I think your last paragraph analysis is pretty much right. I’d give little weight at all to the first concern. Payroll deduction actually means you are paying your tithe first, which demonstrates proper priorities. The second concern is legitimate, but can be easily addressed by family discussions. Indeed, not paying via basket teaches your children that they should not be motivated by what other parishioners might think, but only by actually fulfilling their obligation. This can be done as part of a family discussion about the importance of a child’s weekly contribution.

  2. In many parish schools, one of the conditions for accepting children is that the parents must commit to practice of the faith, including regular Mass attendance. The argument is: Catholic instruction at school must be reinforced by a commitment at home. They are told that collection envelopes may be used to demonstrate this; if unable to contribute, drop an empty envelope in the basket.

    And, of course, every so often someone complains to a newspaper reporter that the school has told them they should withdraw their children because they don’t go to Mass.

  3. Well, DC, I agree with you and Mike P. above, as I seriously doubt that parish envelopes as such will even be used any longer by the time your kids are adults and ready to tithe. Technology may be a bane in many ways, but it leaves behind any and all who don’t adjust to its existence in the long run. I think one way to remind the children is to continue asking them to contribute to the collection basket with their own money, and reminding them each time that mom and dad do it electronically because they don’t get paid an allowance in cash each week like the kids do. Kids are bright, and the lesson won’t be lost on them! :-)

  4. I heard a priest say somewhere, “if you do not feel a slight pit in your stomach after the collection plate comes along, you probably aren’t giving enough.” I agree with this priest, and I think that parish-pay type schemes do make this self-giving almost without challenge. If it’s automatic, you’re not thinking about it. If you’re not thinking about it, it’s probably not that difficult for you.

  5. My church now gets a monthly withdrawal from my checking account. I might not feel the pinch when the collection plate comes around, but I definitely feel it when I divvy up the money each month and there isn’t much for frills or entertainment.

    I think I might also start tithing my monthly surplus–the money I have left after all the expenses are paid, either because I spent less or earned more.

  6. If your biggest giver gives five dollars in cash, you give five dollars in cash when the basket comes around.

    That balances the good of doubling the funds while still giving an example– make sure the kids know about the auto, too!

    You might even want to talk to them about this, when they’re old enough.

  7. While the church I currently belong to does not offer direct withdrawal, the church I grew up in had the option. They still sent envelopes to everyone and you could just check a box that said “automatic withdrawal.” My parents explained it when I was old enough to understand it, and I never thought much of it.

    I wish our parish would get automatic withdrawal, though. We have a lot of parishioners who church-hop between neighboring parishes, and I think this would net us more in the collection overall.

  8. “if you do not feel a slight pit in your stomach after the collection plate comes along, you probably aren’t giving enough.”

    I confess to a certain irritation hearing this type of remark from priests who normally have the basics of life provided for them, who do not have offspring to send to college and who do not compete in the market place. From some of the comments I have heard over the years I get the distinct impression that in the view of some priests money simply magically appears and that one can effortlessly contribute large sums from this mystical benefice to the Church. I personally believe that most people, including myself, do not contribute enough. However I also think that too many priests shortchange the effort necessary to produce the money that is contributed, and the sacrifices that such contributions entail for families that do make an effort to do their share.

  9. The tithe (tenth) belongs to God and having it automatically withdrawn seems convenient and even beneficial when you have a corporate matching program. However, an additional offering is where the real show of love and sacrifice comes in. I very much believe in the value of showing children the importance of giving each week. Perhaps that can be done by giving an offering (above and beyond the tithe) through the standard envelope. The value is that it allows you to give as you feel led and demonstrate to your children the importance of giving. You can still explain that you tithe electronically.

  10. I don’t know how old your kids are, or how much of a bad example it might be to them. But there are enough second collections, spaghetti dinners, poor boxes, rice bowls, and Christmas gift trees that they should be able to see you make contributions even if you’ve got direct payment.

  11. THere is no more “first-fruits” than payroll deduction. IT avoids the temptation to “know better”, and you get accustomed to doing without that 10% (or whatever one tithes, though I guess the true definition of a tithe is 10% of gross). Just watching us dump bills into the collection plate doesn’t really teach our children the right thing, I don’t think. A kid has no conceptof the value of a check (or even what a check represents). And I am not sure that seeing your five dollar bill go in (I think it teaches them that $5.00 is a good amount to put into the basket, which is sadly wrong!).

    SO…for what it’s worth, I think Automatic Withdrawal is a great idea!

  12. Wow…saw one of the follow-up comments (took too long to post this one!), and had to comment.

    PLee commented above that the contribution *above* the tenth was where the real sacrifice kicks in.

    How many people wouldn’t feel a sting when the Tenth was gone? Except for a few of the very rich in our church, I would submit that oe tenth of our gross income is a large sum to tithe, almost no matter how much one makes.

    Of course we cannopt outgive God… But why would we try to do so by tithing more than the first-fruits as commanded? God said one-tenth. Are we holier because we donate one eighth? Nope.

  13. I like Darwin learned from my mom handing me the envelope to put in the collection. I don’t think family discussions are as powerful as the physical act/demonstration an I think it’s real important to if at all possible continue the physical act-not just for your children but also for others. While on the one hand you don’t want to be doing it for your pride (so others can see me), you want others to see that Catholics do give & tithe.

    I would see if you can do a little of both-e-give most of it, and have some left over to physically put in the collection. Of course, that assumes the your means allows you to do that but I think if you can do that balancing act it would be better.

  14. GIRM 73:

    “It is well also that money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, should be received. These are to be put in a suitable place but away from the eucharistic table.”

    Interesting that the second priorities are gifts for the Church and a collection and placed near the altar, which is usually how it is done.

    How many parishes offer the primary options here regularly? A collection for the poor, or an opportunity for people to bring these gifts (to that place away from the altar?

    I like the electronic format, but my daughter has participated in other collections our parishes have offered. And even though there’s direct deposit of charitable funds, that doesn’t prevent us from writing the occasional check for a special cause, or when a little extra income has come to us.