A popular Janis Joplin song in the early 1970s began with this phrase: "Oh Lord, won't you buy be a Mercedes Benz?" Clearly, she wouldn't be mistaken for a theologian – but more and more church attenders are echoing her plea, believing that if they give financially to God, he will reward them with material wealth.
The "prosperity gospel," as it has come to be known, has been around for decades. But according to Lifeway Research, now three out of four churchgoers are buying into it. That's up seven points since 2017.
Scott McConnell is executive director of Lifeway Research:
"In the last five years, far more churchgoers are reflecting prosperity gospel teachings, including the heretical belief that material blessings are earned from God. It is possible the financial hits people have taken from inflation and the pandemic have triggered feelings of guilt for not serving God more. But Scripture does not teach that kind of direct connection."
Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist-Dallas agrees. He says hard times may be leading people into heresy. "I think these numbers are probably a little bit inflated because of the inflation [and] the other economic headwinds we're facing right now," he responds to AFN. "People would like to believe that God is a cosmic ATM, but it doesn't work out that way."
The Southern Baptist pastor confirms God does promise a blessing for those who are faithful in giving, but it's not always a material blessing.
"Let's be clear: The Bible doesn't promise financial riches if we give to God. But the Bible does promise blessings if we obey God in any area of our life, including giving financially," he explains.
The survey found that 52% of churchgoers say their church teaches that the more they give, the more God will prosper them. Jeffress says it's a topic even theologically sound churches need to emphasize more from the pulpit.
"Wrong interpretations of scripture abound when there's not right explanation of scripture," says the senior pastor. "And I think a duty of a pastor is to protect those members from all kinds of heresies by the teaching of God's Word."
The findings from this survey, which was conducted in September 2022, are compared with the results of a similar survey taken five years ago.