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Bad Economy Challenges Churches But Provides Opportunities

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

NASHVILLE, TN -- (Marketwire) -- 03/30/09 -- Protestant churchgoers in America remain generous during difficult economic times, and their churches have increased their ministry to the needy. Despite the country being in an official recession for the past year, giving in 2008 was up an average of 4 percent over 2007 according to a survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors by LifeWay Research.

"While many sectors of the economy have taken a clear step back in the last year, Protestant churches have held their own," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.

Still, more than half of pastors interviewed say that the current economy is negatively impacting their churches, but only 7 percent of Protestant pastors say the economy is "very negatively" impacting their churches. Thirty percent of pastors say the economy has had no impact on their churches.

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Protestant pastors during February 2009. Respondents were asked how the economy is impacting their churches, how giving levels compare to budget, how 2008 offering totals differed from 2007, and what changes have taken place in their churches as a result of the economy.

The average church saw offerings grow by 4 percent in 2008. Growth in offerings of 10 percent or more was experienced by 26 percent of churches. In contrast, 12 percent of churches saw their giving decline by 10 percent or more in 2008.

Pastors are almost as likely to report giving ahead of current budget as behind it. The largest group of churches (45 percent) report offerings since the beginning of 2008 have been about what they budgeted.* Twenty-six percent of churches are receiving more than they budgeted and 27 percent are receiving less. Two percent of pastors are not sure. Seventy-one percent of Protestant churches around the country are either meeting or exceeding their budget, according to the survey.

Because of the financial crunch, 35 percent of churches held salaries for the new year at last year's levels and 12 percent delayed construction or other large capital expenses that were planned. Still, 31 percent of churches explored starting a new ministry to help people who are disadvantaged and 37 percent increased spending from the church budget to help the needy.

Churches willing to meet financial needs will almost certainly find increased opportunities to do so, according to the survey. A majority (62 percent) of churches have had more people in the community request financial assistance in the last year than in previous years.

Even within congregations, needs increased. Nearly a third (31 percent) of churches have received more requests from within the congregation for financial assistance in the last year than in previous years. Within the last year, 4 in 10 churches have had more people than normal within the congregation lose their jobs.

This last year has also brought changes in how those within congregations approach expenditures. Thirty-five percent of churches have a heightened sense of caution within their congregations about trying new things that cost money. A small number of congregations (11 percent) have seen increased reluctance to attend church functions or church-sponsored events that carry a cost or admission charge.

Among the other effects the economy has had on churches: -- Seven percent delayed hiring that was planned. -- Six percent reduced staff salaries. -- Four percent laid off one or more employees. -- Four percent reduced insurance benefits for staff.

For more comprehensive information on this report and a PowerPoint presentation including charted data, visit http://www.lifewayresearch.com/.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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