Survey says church donations are increasing, possible rebound
A new survey showed recently that church donations rose by 43 percent, indicating a possible rebound in church giving.
The “State of the Plate” survey, co-sponsored by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and Christianity Today International, indicated that donations rose by seven percent at U.S. churches, reaching 43 percent in 2010, according to Reuters.
However the same survey showed that 39 percent of churches experienced a dip in donations. This is the third annual “State of the Plate” survey, with some 1,500 churches nationwide participating, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In 2009 “State of the Plate” showed that some 36 percent of churches surveyed said they experienced an increase in donations. This was a fall from 2008 when 46 percent of churches experienced an increase, Gerald Forks Herald said.
In 2009 the survey said giving dipped in 38 percent of the churches surveyed, while 27 percent of churches said donations were unchanged. In 2008 donations decreased in 29 percent of churches, while 25 percent of respondents said donations were unchanged, Grand Forks Herald reported.
Biggest 2010 drops in Southeast
The survey said the churches that experienced the biggest drop in donations were situated in Georgia and other states in the Southeast at 46 percent. Brian Kluth, who heads “State of the Plate” research told AJC, “We’re in a three-year decline.”
Kluth told AJC, “A large percentage of churches have experienced more difficult financial times and the economy is a big part. We’re also seeing a lot of churches have begun doing more financial classes and counseling to help their congregations get their house in order and giving has improved.”
Rev. Stuart Greene of Sugarloaf United Methodist Church in Duluth, GA told AJC, “[W]ithout question it’s the economy. We’ve had a number of our families experience unemployment for significant periods of time.”
Sugarloaf has undertaken belt-tightening measures and scaled back some programs. It also accepts online donations but Greene told AJC, “Maybe it’s just in their DNA about what it means to go to church. They want to physically put a check or money in the collection plate when it’s passed around and that’s an important part of their worship.”
Another reason cited for drops in donation is a downtrend in feelings of charity. Kluth told AJC, “Materialism has trumped generosity in the last few decades.”
One church in GA that has had a rebound in church donations is Milford Church of God in Austell. Rev. Keith Gunter told AJC that when the economy first fell they experienced a 10 percent drop, but things have since then improved.
Gunter told AJC, “[The financial] hit was not as drastic as it was with a lot of other places.” Attendance is good at some 725 weekly. Also the church organized job fairs in anticipation of pending growth in unemployment.
Gunter told AJC, “We started hitting that at the very onset. We didn’t want it to cripple us.” That, plus prayer, Gunter said. “The only way I can explain it is that God is honoring his people for their giving and sacrifice.”
The survey showed that over 90 percent of church leaders are worried about President Barack Obama’s plan to restructure tax breaks for charities, fearful that it could affect donations, according to Reuters.
Kluth, who also founded Maximum Generosity, told Reuters, “Charities and churches have been hit hard by the economy the past three years. If the government’s plan to change the rules on charitable tax deductions goes through, giving to charities and churches will likely be negatively affected.”
The Giving USA annual report said that donations to religious organizations and churches comprised 0.7 percent of $303 billion that was given in 2009, according to Reuters.
Survey not scientific
The “State of the Plate” survey is not done scientifically, Grand Forks Herald said. Instead of a random scientific sampling of Christian churches in the nation, the sent emails to churches in seven regions that comprised all 50 states. While every region sent responses, not every state did, Grand Forks Herald said.
Grand Forks Herald added that churches in 17 other countries, mostly from Canada, also participated in the survey with a partiality to evangelical conservative churches, which comprised 24 percent of respondents.
Of the remainder, 23 percent were Baptist, 21 percent were independent nondenominational, 13 percent were mainline Protestant such as Episcopal or United Methodist, 12 percent were charismatic Pentecostal, five percent were “other,” and two Orthodox Christian or Roman Catholic, Grand Forks Herald said.