As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are asked to pay one-tenth of our income to the Lord through His Church. The Church's Gospel Topics page on tithing explains, “By paying tithing, Church members show their gratitude to God for their blessings and their resolve to trust in the Lord rather than in material things. They also help further the work of the Lord in the earth, blessing others of God’s children with the opportunity to learn of Him and grow in the gospel.” And Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé has said, “Tithing is an essential practice of Latter-day Saints, regardless of where they live, their social standing, or their material circumstances. By keeping this law, Church members receive spiritual and temporal blessings in their lives and help further the Church’s divine mission on earth.”
But what does that mean specifically? How are we directly helping to “further the work of the Lord on the earth”? When we write a check or click “submit” on the online donation form, what is that donation spent on?
The Church Newsroom page on tithing shares the following:
Tithing donations are most usually remitted through the local congregational leader, or bishop, and from there to Church headquarters, where they are allocated and disbursed directly to the Church’s many worldwide programs, including its educational, missionary, building, humanitarian and welfare efforts.
Additionally, tithing funds the construction and maintenance of Church facilities. These buildings provide the infrastructure for delivering both physical and spiritual relief to community members. In addition to helping the Church care for the well-being of the less fortunate, Latter-day Saints make charitable donations because they believe in fulfilling God’s commandment to tithe and give to the poor.
More specifically, according to a 2019 Church Newsroom release, all tithing donations are spread among six categories:
- Supporting the global missionary program
- Building, maintaining, and repairing meetinghouses
- Helping the poor and needy
- Building temples and supporting family history programs
- Iinvesting in education
- General administration of the Church
Here is a closer look at the six categories included in the release.
Supporting the Global Missionary Program
One way that tithing donations help further the work of the Lord is through missionary work. President Russell M. Nelson said:
Before His final Ascension, [Jesus Christ] commissioned [His apostles] to “go … and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The Apostles heeded that instruction. They also called upon others to help them fulfill the Lord’s command. Today, under the direction of modern apostles and prophets, that same charge has been extended to missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, they strive to fulfill that divine command—renewed in our day by the Lord Himself—to take the fulness of the gospel abroad and bless the lives of people everywhere.
According to a recent address from Elder Quentin L. Cook, the Church is on track to have more than 72,000 full-time missionaries serving around the world by the end of 2023. While missionaries and their families do contribute to their expenses, many aspects of missionary service require additional funding. In all, 411 missions worldwide are funded by the Church, including expenses related to mission homes, apartments, offices, automobiles, and missionary-related travel.
Building, Maintaining, and Repairing Meetinghouses
The Church pays for the construction and maintenance of the meetinghouses that serve more than 31,300 congregations and 17 million Church members worldwide. These buildings also serve as spaces for community education, family history research, and emergency response. Having a local meetinghouse gives members across the world a physical space to gather and grow together in their understanding of the gospel.
Helping the Poor and Needy
In a 2021 Facebook post, President M. Russell Ballard stated:
The Lord has made it clear that one of the great responsibilities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we are to feed the hungry and the poor. We are to reach out and take care of them. May God bless us all in our efforts as we do so.
► You may also like: The touching story behind why President Ballard keeps an Oreo on his desk
Latter-day Saint Charities is a global program that partners with many organizations, such as the Red Cross, to provide assistance, primarily to those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church’s 2022 annual report shows that this work included more than $1 billion in expenditures and 3,692 humanitarian projects in 190 countries and territories. Local leaders also regularly help provide food, housing, and other temporal needs to community members and families through the Church's welfare program.
Building Temples and Supporting Family History Programs
One of the foundational principles of the Church is the doctrine of connecting families across generations. The spiritual aspect of that work is done in the 300+ announced or operating temples, all built and maintained through Church funding. FamilySearch, the Church's nonprofit family history organization, is free for public use and is also funded by Church donations.
President Joseph F. Smith stated, “Through our efforts in their behalf their chains of bondage will fall from [our ancestors], and the darkness surrounding them will clear away, that light may shine upon them and they shall hear in the spirit world of the work that has been done for them by their children here, and will rejoice with you in your performance of these duties.”
Investing in Education
Another foundational principle of the Church is spiritual and temporal education. President Nelson has said, “Your mind is precious! It is sacred. Therefore, the education of one’s mind is also sacred. Indeed, education is a religious responsibility.”
The Church’s seminaries and institutes provide religious education for over 700,000 students every year, and Church-owned universities and business college have a combined total of almost 100,000 students. Additionally, the global BYU-Pathway Worldwide program is funded by the Church and provides those with limited resources or opportunities access to higher education.
General Administration of the Church
This category may sound a little vague, but that’s because it is so broad; it includes any other miscellaneous administrative costs involved in running a worldwide organization with millions of members globally.
After tithing donations are submitted to the headquarters of the Church through local leaders, the allocation of donations to each of the areas above are decided by a council comprised of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric. Acting according to revelation, they make decisions as they are directed by the Lord (see Doctrine and Covenants 120:1).
This video from the Presiding Bishopric explains how the decision to use Church finances is taken very seriously. He says, “The three of us, we have a business background, … but ultimately any decision is made in the spirit of prayer. We seek the will of the Lord. We try our best to be instruments in the hands of the Lord.”
In a 2019 article from Deseret News, Bishop Caussé also said, “We take seriously the responsibility to care for the tithes and donations received from members. The vast majority of these funds are used immediately to meet the needs of the growing church including more meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work, and missionary efforts throughout the world. Over many years, a portion is methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future.”
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in January 2021 and has been updated with the most recent information from the Church.