When payday arrives every other week, Steve and Amy Howsare of New Paris automatically deposit 10 percent into the church offering plate.

For the Howsares, tithing is a matter of biblical obedience and an investment in their spiritual lives.

“It’s about payback and showing thankfulness,” said Steve Howsare, a Bedford County commissioner who earns about $45,000 a year while his wife is a stay-at-home mom for the couple’s three young children.

“I believe it’s giving back to the church – giving back to God a portion of what he has blessed us with.”

As the giving season swings into high gear, Howsare and his wife find themselves in the minority among churchgoers nationwide.

While church records during the past century show tithing never has been widespread, only about 2.6 percent of worshippers now participate in the practice.

“The percentage Christians have been giving has been declining for about 30-plus years,” said Brian Kluth, a Colorado minister who has turned the issue of tithing and church giving into a cottage industry with his Web site, www.kluth.org.

Tithing is about stewardship and being responsible for making the most of what God gives us, said Kluth, an active public speaker who uses a power-point program on 10 ways to get a congregation to tithe.

“The further you get away from the Bible being a guide for life and faith, the less likely you are to give as a faith practice,” he said.

With tithing at an all-time low – even less than it was during the Great Depression – Kluth points to skyrocketing bankruptcy filings at 1.6 million in 2004 and average household credit-card debt at $10,000.

These figures, coupled with plummeting savings, down from 6 percent of personal income a decade ago to 1.8 percent in 2004, have a direct correlation to the lack of tithing and why many churches are struggling, Kluth said.

The lack of giving is easy to figure out, said the Rev. William Meyer of Westmont Presbyterian Church.

Parishioners “need to get their ‘wanters’ fixed,” he said.

The Rev. Ralph Johnson of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Hornerstown thinks knowing the line between wanting and needing has been blurred with the church. In turn, that shoves God further down the priority list.

“Fewer people believe in biblical principles – I’ve seen tithing go down,” Johnson said.

“Years ago, people believed what they had came from God. Now, they don’t look at the increase they get as something from God.”

Meyer and Johnson refer to biblical passages in Leviticus on the importance of giving a tenth of earnings, a philosophy carried through to the New Testament.

The Rev. Rob Archey of Grace Assembly of God in Johnstown views tithing as a command from the Lord – and not doing so is failure to obey.

“It’s a spiritual investment. It’s worship,” Archey said.

Meyer was even more blunt: “If you don’t give a tithe, you rob God and yourself of God’s promises to bless tithes and offerings.

“If you obey God, it will work,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the place that I can double tithe and not miss it.”

Howsare agreed.

“When we first got married, we tried not tithing,” he said.

“But we got discouraged and decided to try it. It was tough at first, but (God) blessed our giving, and within four years my salary doubled.”

But, he said, it’s not about getting back, it’s about being obedient.

Despite his emphasis on giving and tapping the resources of congregations, Kluth warns against what he called the “give to get mentality” used on many faith-based television programs.

“Biblically, you give because you have received,” he said.

While tithing is strongly advocated in some segments of the Protestant faith, giving is approached differently among others and Catholics.

“We challenge ourselves as members to try to meet the 10 percent, but it’s not a requirement,” said the Rev. Dennis Doebler of Christ Casebeer Lutheran Church on Somerset Pike.

He said tithing is part of stewardship and goes beyond just money.

“It’s not only what we put in the offering plate, but our time and our talents,” Doebler said. “Tithing is a goal we work for as Lutherans.”

Lutherans have been hesitant to put down laws, said the Rev. John Harmon of Good Shepherd Cooperative Lutheran Ministry of Shanksville.

“It’s a good fiscal discipline,” he said. “I personally tithe since all belongs to God.”

Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the attitude behind giving, rather than the amount of the gift itself, said Chris Ringkamp, associate director of stewardship and development for the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese.

“Giving needs to be of time, talent and treasure, and it needs to be until one feels good,” Ringkamp said.

Meyer said studies show that as people grow older, they develop a greater sense of thankfulness and many start tithing later in life.

“It’s because they get wiser and they realize the hearse doesn’t stop at the bank on the way to the cemetery,” he said.

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