There are several scriptures in the Bible, including Malachi 3:10 and Exodus 23:19, that indicate tithes and offerings should be brought into the “storehouse” or into the house of the Lord. In Old Testament times, the storehouse was the place where the Jews would bring their contributions – animals, grain, etc. – to be used for ministries associated with God, including feeding the worship leaders and their families, widows, orphans, and other needy people.
According to the KJV Bible Commentary,
There is the principle of bringing the tithes and offerings to the house of God to support the work of God, and in that sense believers today should bring their tithes and offerings to the local church of which they are members to support the work of the Lord in and through that local church. There is nothing in this verse, however, which would limit their giving to the local church. There is no reason why believers today cannot support with their gifts ministries of the Lord that are carried on in avenues other than their own particular local church. Each believer is independently accountable to God for the allotment of the money God entrusts to him.
Larry Burkett, a Christian writer and lecturer on family financial matters, has said, “Ideally, the local church could serve as the storehouse . . . today. Then people’s tithes would simply be given to the church. However, in truth, the vast majority of local churches do not minister fully in all. . . areas. . . . Therefore, to the extent that a church would lack in a specific area of ministry, a portion of the tithe should be given to the . . . organization which is ‘filling the gap.’ “
Although what Burkett is advocating is somewhat controversial, he does not advise withholding all financial support from the church where that person is a member, even if that person does not agree with the way the church is spending its funds. Burkett suggests another alternative: If you cannot come to an agreement with the leadership of the church after discussing your concerns, “you should prayerfully consider going to another church in order not to violate your conscience.”
Furthermore, there are many Christians who make financial contributions to individuals or to organizations other than the church they attend. Although many of these individuals or organizations may be involved in a worthwhile ministry, their ministry may be entirely secular (i.e., it may not seek to glorify God). Thus, there is no biblical basis for supporting these ministries financially with money that should be regarded as part of the tithe, which is the first 10% of a person’s income that should be given to ministries associated with God, according to the Bible (see Leviticus 27:30, Deuteronomy 14:22, and Malachi 3:10) . Therefore, if a Christian wants to contribute to one or more secular ministries, the money he (or she) contributes probably should be in addition to their tithe. [For additional perspective regarding the tithe, click on “Why Tithe?”]
Before giving a substantial contribution to a charitable organization, it is important to determine the purpose of the organization. Get as much information as you can about the organization’s objectives. Also, if you are not certain about the primary religious doctrines of an organization, request that information regarding its basic tenets be sent to you, if that information is not available to you otherwise (e.g., on the Internet). You might want to obtain similar information about any church that you are considering attending regularly, since there are many churches that may follow considerably more liberal or conservative doctrines than those with which you would be comfortable.
In addition, obtain information about the organization’s achievements during each of the last several years. This will help you in determining if the organization is reaching its objectives. Try to determine how many people have been helped by the organization and how they were helped (e.g., food, shelter, medical care, etc.). You also may want to find out how many people have been led to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as a result of the ministries of the organization, especially if the primary goal of the organization is to provide for the physical needs of people. It may be enlightening to obtain this type of information also about the church that you are planning to attend or are already attending.
Also, make sure you receive information as to how the organization is spending the funds it receives. Although some guidelines suggest that at least 60% of revenues should be used to pay for programs (i.e., ministries) and no more than 35% should be spent for raising additional funds, we do not think these figures are demanding enough. Most well-managed charitable organizations should be able to use at least 75% of their revenues to pay for programs and spend less than 20% for fund raising.
Churches are quite different than most other types of charitable organizations and, therefore, the previously noted percentages for programs and fund raising are not applicable to them. However, in light of the fact that Jesus Christ instructed His followers (in Mark 16:15) to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person,” you may want to determine if the church to which you are considering contributing is spending for missions-oriented activities what you believe is an adequate percentage of the total contributions it receives, Furthermore, you might find it worthwhile to examine the entire budget of the church to gain a better understanding of how it is spending the money it receives.
If you need to check on the reputation of a charitable organization (other than a church), one of the following sources may be helpful: