You wouldn't know there's a global recession by the increase in tithe that some countries have experienced lately.
Seventh-day Adventists in the tiny Central American nation of Belize have boosted their tithing by 41 percent. In Asia, the nation of Bangladesh recorded a nearly 36 percent increase in tithe. And in the African country of Angola, tithing skyrocketed 489 percent in the past five years.
These findings are among the highlights of the recently released Global Tithe Index 2009 -- a database that compares tithe returns of about 100 countries after adjusting for economic factors specific to those nations.
Created by Claude Richli, an employee of the Adventist Church world headquarters with a self-proclaimed analytical mindset, the index seeks to explain how Adventists respond to their responsibility toward tithe-giving.
"The report tells the story of faithfulness around the world, in good times and in bad times," said Richli. "I believe that in some countries which have been blessed by extraordinary tithes, people's commitment has been deeper -- or even rekindled -- through the economic challenges the world has gone through."
Richli, director of marketing and associate publisher of the Adventist Review / Adventist World, has produced the index in his spare time since 2003, when he was associate executive secretary for the denomination's East-Central Africa Division, based in Nairobi.
The index can be a valuable tool for church leaders hoping to make decisions regarding policy making and planning, said Kenneth Swansi, chairman of the business department at Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines.
The significance of the index, Swansi said, is that "it puts a common denominator in the tithing behavior," which can lead to useful comparisons.
"We've had some very good discussions in the classroom; we have looked at and dissected and discussed the tithing behavior from around the world," Swansi said, "and it is surprising sometimes that the most affluent people maybe are not the best when it comes to giving and tithing."
Richli, who holds a Master's degree in Business Administration from church-run Andrews University, compiles the index by relying on reference tools including the Seventh-day Adventist Statistical Report and the CIA world fact book. He also compares each country's Gross Domestic Product per capita with tithe per capita, and assigns a "GTI ratio" to each nation.
The best tithe giving countries are those with the lowest GTI ratios. The index shows Zimbabwe with the lowest ratio, 1.5, and India with the highest, at 127.4 (India's tithe dropped 5 percent).
The United States is ranked 41st of 103 countries, with a ratio of 5.9 and continuing to trend toward a higher ratio. Richli suspects the weakening state of giving may be due to church members diverting tithe to independent ministries.
The latest index, a 48-page report, analyzes giving patterns in 2009 and attempts to draw conclusions about why Adventists in some countries are tithing more, and why in other countries they appear to be tithing less.
Some trends, Richli notes, don't seem to have a logical explanation at first glance.
The Adventist population in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, for example, lost a significant number of members due to membership audits, yet all three South American countries logged a marked increase in tithe compared to the year before. How is that possible? Richli believes that faithful members, though much smaller in number, have become even more faithful.
The denomination's Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, the index found, shows robust tithing, most likely due to systematic evangelism, strong management and a faithful membership of recent years, Richli said. Of particular note is Angola, where the post civil war economy continues to improve. "I see that Angola, toward the end of a decade, will become a financial powerhouse," Richli said, predicting tithing levels may potentially be as strong as those in Germany, Korea or Brazil.
Other nations that stand out in the index: France, Switzerland and Hong Kong experienced double digit tithe increases. Papua New Guinea logged a 41 percent increase.
The index notes there were 15.3 million Adventists in 2009, who gave nearly $1.8 billion in tithe.