The official statements and guidelines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the use of tithe say, “The tithe is the main source of funding for the total proclamation of the gospel to all the world by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”1 But what is actually being funded with your tithe? And how is your tithe being used to proclaim the gospel?
These are questions you’ve probably asked before. Maybe you ask them when you set your envelope in the tithe and offering plate or press send on your church’s website. You’re just curious what happens after it leaves your hands. Many people do not know how their church uses tithe. Or maybe it seems to you like a complex process that takes your tithe to a distant recipient you know little about.
The Seventh-day Adventist church has many faithful members who regularly tithe and have done so since they were children. Yet many of these same faithful members would not be able to explain how and where their tithe is used. Sure, they know some of it goes to pay pastors’ salaries and some of it goes to evangelism, but how it gets there and where the rest of it goes isn’t clear to many people.
Tithing in the early Seventh-day Adventist church
The early Seventh-day Adventist movement did not immediately adopt the current church views on tithing. In 1859, the early leaders established a practice called systematic benevolence.2 This plan involved each man 18-60 years of age setting aside between 5 and 25 cents per week, each woman in the church setting aside between 2 and 10 cents per week and everyone in the church setting aside between 1 and 5 cents per 100 dollars of property each week to be given to the church for its operating costs.
In an article published in the Review & Herald at the time it was explained, “The lowest sums stated are so very small that those in the poorest circumstances (with very few exceptions of some widows, infirm, and aged) can act upon this plan; while those in better circumstances are left to act in the fear of God in the performance of their stewardship, to give all the way up to the highest sums stated, or even more, as they see it their duty to do.”3 (If you would like to learn more about systematic benevolence in the early church, click here.)
Systematic benevolence was not based on a percentage of your income, as tithing is. But as the pioneers of our church studied God’s Word and grew in their faith, their knowledge of the scriptural practice of tithing grew as well. Because of their deeper understanding of scripture, their practice of systematic benevolence quickly changed into a tithe system modeled after the Israelite nation’s tithing practices, which has outlined many of our church’s modern uses of tithe.
Nowadays, we do not generally set aside nickels, dimes or quarters to pay our tithes and offerings. Today’s tithe does not usually use physical money anymore. Tithing online or writing a check has all but eliminated the dollar you set in the tithe and offering plate. But physical or not, your dollars and cents still go on a journey from their giver to their destination. This journey may at first seem complex, long and confusing. But in reality, this journey is probably not as long as you expect, and the destination is closer to home than you may realize.
How does it get there?
The first question that must be answered is how your tithe makes it from your hands to its destination. The answer begins with your generosity. Without your generosity and faithfulness, your tithe would never go anywhere. But because you are faithful enough to put it in the offering plate or submit it on your church’s website, you send it on its way.
Your tithe, whether physical or electronic, is collected by your church and submitted directly to your local conference treasury. Each conference in the Mid-America Union has its own bank account, or “treasury,” where tithes are tracked separately from other church funds. Even if your tithe is submitted to the General Conference or the Mid-America Union, the tithe will be given to the conference of the church you attend or are a member.
The Seventh-day Adventist church regards the local conference to be the “storehouse” or “treasury” referred to in Mal. 3:10, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts” (NASB). Ellen G. White also refers to this treasury in Testimonies to the Church Vol. 6: “He [God] places His treasures in the hands of men, but requires that one-tenth shall be faithfully laid aside for His work. He requires this portion to be placed in His treasury.”4
How is it used?
Approximately 84% of the tithe dollars given stay within the union where they are given, and 71.5% stay within the conference where they are given.
Your tithe is collected into the conference treasury along with the tithe from all the other churches in your conference, but it does not stay there. Your tithe money is put to use in God’s work. Tithe is used to fund many things in the church, and these vary depending on the union you reside in, but approximately 84% of the tithe dollars given stay within the union where they are given, and 71.5% stay within the conference where they are given.
Each conference chooses its own way of dividing up tithe according to the North American Division policies, but most are similar. The conferences in the Mid-America Union begin by giving the North American Division and the General Conference about 16%, including about 1% toward special assistance for other conferences; giving roughly 9% to the union–of which 4% is used for operations and 5% for Union College and conference programs; and giving about 3.5% directly to Union College. The remaining approximately 71.5% goes into pastors/churches, education, office/miscellaneous, youth, and ministries within each conference. The amounts change from year to year, but the approximate percentages are as follows:5
- Pastors/Churches (47%)
- Education (11%)
- Office/Miscellaneous (6.5%)
- Youth (3.5%)
- Ministries (3.5%)
Close to home
The Seventh-day Adventist official statements and guidelines regarding the use of tithe begin by saying, “God’s plan for the support of His work on this earth is through the tithe and freewill offerings of His people… This includes a balanced and comprehensive evangelistic outreach to the public and the spiritual nurturing of church members.”1
The staff of the unions and conferences do their best to make sure when you give your tithe dollar to the church, it is used to support God’s work on this earth. They do their best to make sure a “balanced and comprehensive” approach to public outreach and spiritual nurturing of church members is the ultimate result of your gift.
This is accomplished by returning a vast majority of the tithe money given in a conference directly back to that conference. The reality is your tithe dollar does go on a journey, but that journey is really not that long or complex. Much of that tithe dollar comes right back to where it was given and is used for purposes closer to home than you may have originally thought.
3. Review & Herald. February 3, 1859, p. 84.
4. White, Ellen G. Testimonies to the Church Vol. 6. 1900.
5. Figures are from Mid-America Union 2016 financial reports and Kansas-Nebraska Conference Communique (April 2017).