A majority of churches reported giving increases in 2011, the first such occurrence in three years, according to results released today from the 2012 State of the Plate report.
The constituency survey of more than 1,360 pastors and leaders of Protestant churches nationwide showed 51 percent experienced increases in 2011 compared with 2010. Thirty-two percent said giving declined.
The reasons given for giving increases ranged from an improved local economy to increased attendance to more dedicated efforts to teach about giving and generosity.
With more funds, many churches expanded their budgets, spending more on missions, benevolence, and staff. Leaders also indicated an increasing acceptance of electronic giving options and a continued use of financial best practices to ensure accountability and transparency.
1. A majority of churches reported giving increases. For the first time in three years, more than half of the churches saw increases in giving compared with the prior year:
- 51 percent of churches saw giving increases in 2011, compared with 43 percent in 2010 and 36 percent in 2009.
- 32 percent of churches reported a decline in giving in 2011, compared with 39 percent in 2010 and 38 percent in 2009.
- More than 70 percent of megachurches (churches with more than 2,000 people in weekend attendance) saw giving increases. Only 39 percent of small churches (fewer than 100 in weekend attendance) saw giving increases.
- Among churches that saw giving increases, 50 percent said it was primarily because of increased attendance, and 42 percent said it was because people gave more after their church taught about finances and generosity.
- Heartland states (Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska) saw the biggest rebound, with nearly 55 percent of churches experiencing giving increases.
- Pacific Coast states (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii) suffered the most, with 38 percent reporting decreases in 2011. However, 45 percent of churches in Pacific states saw giving increases.
Giving was flat in 2011 at Northshore Christian Church in Everett, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. "We felt blessed to hold our own in a challenging economy," said Rob Cizek, the executive pastor of the church, where 1,500 adults, teens, and children attend each week.
He leads a network of executive pastors in the Seattle area. Most of the large churches he knows "are holding their own or growing," he said. "I don't get the sense they're struggling."
However, Cizek said, he knows several nearby churches struggle with resources because they attract large numbers of young adults who may not have much to give in the early stages of their careers. More established churches with a more diverse representation of ages and economic backgrounds can sometimes hold up better during periods of economic distress, he added.
During the housing boom, Northshore began intentionally teaching about biblical principles associated with giving. Since then, the church's giving base has shifted away from "a few wealthy benefactors," Cizek said, which stabilized the church when the recession came. "Our story of congregational health is actually much better because much of our budget is coming from smaller-sized donations from a larger group of people."
2. Budgets are up and focused on people. Church budgets, consequently, are up, and churches are allocating the extra funds to staff pay raises (40.3 percent), missions (36.5 percent), church buildings (35.3 percent) and benevolence (31.1 percent). Many churches increased their spending for missions and benevolence – two ways churches work to meet the needs of people locally and globally. And pay raises for staff and pastors were a move to care for their own, after many churches were forced to freeze or cut salaries during the recession.
At Southview Community Church in northern Virginia, giving was down 21 percent in 2011 compared to 2010. One primary reason: For the third year in a row, the church's Christmas collections went toward Southview's partnership with Compassion International to aid child sponsorships, birth-survival initiatives, clean water technologies, and leadership development in Rwanda. "The work being done there, the fruit that's being borne, is very compelling to us," said William Attaway, the church's senior pastor.
Southview, which averages 186 people in weekly attendance (including children), raised $57,000 during the Christmas season. Had the money gone toward Southview's general fund, 2011 would have ended about 10 percent behind 2010, said Lynn Carr, church administrator.
"It astounded us—the response," Attaway said. "It's one of those things where we see God working and we want to join in on that."
The church offers Financial Peace courses to its congregation and surrounding community. During the fourth quarter of 2011, the church also sent letters to every member of the church, explaining the ministry initiatives it planned for 2012, and the need for every family to contribute (Attaway said the church's data showed that nearly a quarter of families gave nothing up to that point in 2011). The 2012 plan included budget increases across the board, including more spending for children's ministry, increased staffing, and outreach events.
Giving during the first quarter of 2012 is up 10 percent compared with the same year-ago period. "We saw an immediate increase," Attaway said. "It's a matter of saying what we're doing, casting the vision, painting the picture. We're seeing God's people responding."
3. Electronic giving options continue to gain traction. The way churches receive donations has shifted from the traditional "envelope packets" toward electronic giving, such as cell phone applications, automatic bank withdrawals, and lobby kiosks. The use of envelopes soon will be surpassed by electronic giving options as more churches explore technological tools to encourage faithful giving. The traditional passing of an offering plate remains the top choice for most churches, but electronic giving options continue to gain ground:
- Offering plate/bag passed: 92 percent
- Annual envelope packets: 45 percent
- Automatic bank withdrawal/EFT: 42 percent
- Website online giving: 41 percent
- Brokerage account giving: 32 percent
- Offering box in back of church: 25 percent
- Cell Phone Giving Apps: 7 percent
- Giving Kiosk/Terminal: 3 percent
4. Churches prioritize financial integrity and accountability. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) formed a commission in 2011 to examine ways churches govern themselves in financial matters. The 2012 State of the Plate shows a significant number of churches actively use several practices and procedures to ensure financial integrity and accountability. For instance:
- 92 percent make their financial statements available upon request to their members.
- 89 percent provide copies of their annual budget to their congregation or make them available upon request.
- 86 percent of the church boards are made up of five or more people, with at least three of those people not a pastor/staff or related to a pastor/staff.
- 72 percent have a finance committee in which the majority of members are lay people.
- 55 percent conduct an annual internal audit.
The 2012 State of the Plate was a constituency survey. Its co-sponsors sent email communications and provided website links to their individual constituencies and partners to participate. Because it is a constituency survey, and not a random sampling study, a scientific error margin is not included.
A full executive summary, including graphics, of the 2012 State of the Plate survey is available at YourChurchResources.com.
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