Global Tithe Index Collects
Stats on Adventist Giving
Report indicates economy, culture don't always gauge faithfulness
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER Editorial Assistant, Adventist News Network
en, euros, rubles and francs – the currencies members of the global Seventh-day Adventist Church use to return their tithes and offerings vary as widely as do their lifestyles and the financial footing of their respective countries.
All that incongruity begs for an evenhanded means to compare stewardship among church members and peg giving trends from country to country. Adventist pastor and businessman Claude Richli's third Global Tithe Index report, released recently, uses what he calls an "objective yardstick" to measure faithfulness and trace several positive developments in giving.
Here's how it works: By comparing each country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita with tithe per capita -- or how much the average Adventist returns in tithe every year -- the GTI formula accounts for currency exchanges and "huge economic disparities" among countries to indicate where the church is best supported, Richli said. A GTI ratio close to 1 suggests a country's members are, by and large, faithful.
COUNTING ON MEMBERS: Adventist businessman and pastor Claude Richli hopes his Global Tithe Index report will provide church treasurers and stewardship leaders with a tool to measure levels of giving among countries. This year's report indicates some previously dependent regions of the church are now achieving financial self-sufficiency. [photo: Beate Richli/ANN]
Richli, who now directs marketing for the Adventist Review
, the church's flagship journal, developed the formula in 2003 during his stint as associate executive secretary for the church's then newly-formed East-Central Africa region. There, promoting financial self-sufficiency in fledgling areas of the church became one of his primary concerns.
"I hadn't seen anything that levels the playing field before, and that's really the reason why I started doing these reports," Richli said of his first GTI report, completed in 2004. That report, and the two that have followed, are based on figures from the church's annual Statistical Report and other publicly available data.
While not yet an official church document, the report is a valuable resource for comparing levels of giving worldwide, said Gerry Karst, chair of the church's Use of Tithe Study Commission and a world church vice president. "Are people sacrificing at the same level? Are [they] giving at the same level? You can make those comparisons," he said.
Richli singles out statistics from Africa as one of the report's most notable trends. In many African countries long dogged by hyperinflation and other problems, the church has found securing an economic toehold difficult. This year's figures suggest the situation is improving. Also positive are the figures from former communist countries, some of which are now in lockstep with affluent Western countries, Richli said.
Between 2005 and 2006, global tithe returns increased 8.3 percent, and discounting the church's North American region, the jump was even more dramatic: 17.4 percent. "Certainly, the loss of value of the U.S. dollar against other currencies explains part of these changes; but in the case of Brazil, we have real improvement," Richli said -- despite the dollar losing 12 percent against Brazil's real, overall tithes grew by 25 percent. As the church's second largest contributor, growth in Brazil is particularly encouraging and, he said, suggests a broader "positive trend" in tithe returns that "continues to gain momentum" globally.
Figures from Mexico represent another "bright spot" in this year's report, Richi said. Following a 25 percent decrease in tithe returns for that country between 2002 and 2003, Mexican Adventists shrugged off the peso's 1 percent loss against the dollar to grow their country's tithe returns a "remarkable" 78.6 percent, Richli said.
Other Latin American countries, however, lag in tithe returns. Consider Peru's "very weak" GTI ratio of 47.3 percent and Belize at 13.3 on the same scale. Richli speculates large influxes of members into the church in South America may keep stewardship leaders scrambling to educate new Adventists on faithful giving, thus explaining the low faithfulness levels.
Because several factors can skew GTI ratios, Richli admits its accuracy is limited. In countries where Adventists are largely from the lower economic population -- because the church may be new and underdeveloped, or members may have faced discrimination -- comparing tithe per capita to GDP may inaccurately reflect faithfulness. The same is true in countries where members are predominantly women, young, or rural -- groups that Richli said often face economic disadvantages.
However, the report contradicts the idea that a country's economic status or the culture of its people should somehow predict faithfulness, Richli said, citing figures from the Western African nation of Burkina Faso. "It's gone from 6.3 to 2.6 [1being the ideal]-- that's on par with Germany," he said. "And Burkina Faso is not necessarily a rich country. We need to find out what they're doing right there and see if it can be duplicated in other countries."