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Recession catches up to America's churches

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — According to a new LifeWay Research study, data gathered Oct. 7-14 shows that 2010 is on course to be the third straight year with an increased number of churches receiving lower offerings than the prior year. Thirty-four percent of churches report receiving less offering this year than the previous year, compared to 23 percent in 2009 and 19 percent in 2008.

Additionally, LifeWay Research reported that 79 percent of pastors say the economy is impacting their church negatively, reflecting media reports that overall offering dollars reportedly have declined for the first time.

“It’s hard to explain in financial terms how churches have done as well as they have the last three years,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “Churches actually saw average offerings rise 3 percent in 2009, but the recession – though officially over mid last year – has finally taken its toll on churches in 2010.”

In the October telephone survey, churches reported average 2010 offerings of 3 percent less than their 2009 offerings, though the median amount hasn’t changed.

Also:

• 42 percent of churches report offerings that are the same as those of 2009.

• 21 percent report offerings that are at least 10 percent below last year’s giving.

• 19 percent of churches report that the 2010 offering is at least 1 percent above what it was in 2009. The smallest churches, those with less than 49 people in average worship attendance, are least likely to have experienced growth in offerings over 2009. The full report can be found at lifeway.com/menu/200767.

“Six in 10 churches have at least remained at their 2009 giving levels,” McConnell pointed out. “But the small number of churches with growth in their offerings in 2010 is striking.”

Flat Social Security benefits as well as sustained high unemployment leading to long-term decreases in consumer income are now, likely more than ever, impacting churches even as the economic news has grown more positive, McConnell said.

“Because many members give in direct proportion to their income, Protestant churches may be more impacted by unemployment and Social Security than the stock market,” he said. “Until unemployment turns around, Protestant churches may continue to struggle financially.”

In the midst of this less-than-encouraging financial data, LifeWay Research did uncover some heartening trends.

Forty-nine percent of churches report that in comparison to recent years, volunteering in the community has increased in the past year. And in spite of the overall lower offerings, 47 percent of churches have increased spending from the church budget to help the needy.

“Scarcity brings clarity. Economic realities call for churches to be cautious with their spending,” McConnell said, noting that more than half of churches (54 percent) have frozen staff salaries in response to the economy. “Still, there are clear indicators that churches can simultaneously take bold steps forward in serving their communities. Even while limiting spending, 35 percent of churches have explored launching a new ministry to help disadvantaged individuals, and 25 percent have gone ahead and launched one.”

 

Brooklyn Lowery is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.