Recession impacts church donations

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In terms of regional giving, the survey pinpointed the Pacific Rim states as being the hardest hit. Fifty-five percent of the churches in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington saw giving decline, the survey said. In Rocky Mountain states (Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho), 48 percent of the churches saw giving drop.

In the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, 32 percent of churches surveyed saw giving drop, a figure Mr. Kluth called “better than expected” considering the heavy job losses in the region.

In response, churches cut heavily on travel and conferences, programs such as youth ministry and expansion or renovation plans.

The news out of the survey was not all bad; 35 percent of the churches reported that giving was up in 2009, compared with 47 percent in 2008.

Thirty-one percent of the churches increased their benevolence giving to the poor and to help financially strapped members. Thirty percent increased their missions giving.

Other sources have reported huge crimps in church budgets. On March 8, the United Methodist News Service reported a $24 million shortfall in the denomination’s 2009 budget. It also reported a 1 percent membership drop in 2008, the latest year for which it has figures. It’s the largest percentage drop since 1974, putting total membership at 7.7 million.

Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of Empty Tomb Inc., a Champaign, Ill. organization that monitors church giving patterns, said giving is not always down during recessions; in fact, it went up in 1974, 1982 and 2002.

“The economy does not necessarily predict what people will do in terms of giving,” she said. “The church is considered as immediately beyond the family; that is, church is not the place where people cut first.”

Compared with counterparts overseas, U.S. churches tend to weather recessions well, she said.

“We find a much greater level of philanthropy here because there is no state church,” she added. “Thus, congregations have had to convince people of the value of charitable giving.”

About the Author
Julia Duin

Julia Duin

Julia Duin is the Times’ religion editor. She has a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry (an Episcopal seminary) and has covered the beat for three decades. Before coming to The Washington Times, she worked for five newspapers, including a stint as a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle and a year as city editor at the ...

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