ECFA: Giving Remains Flat or Down for Many Churches

Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (and an Editorial Advisor for Christianity Today's Church Law & Tax Group), provided an update on giving trends at the recent Ultimate Financial and Legal Conference in Arlington, Texas. He included some statistics regarding cash giving to the nonprofit ministries and churches that receive accreditation from ECFA for their financial practices.

Some highlights from what Busby presented:

In 2012, cash giving to churches was up 4.8 percent (compared to a 4.2-percent overall increase when combining ECFA-backed ministries and churches together). However, this figure doesn't include a 2-percent adjustment for inflation. "This means cash giving to churches and nonprofits is very flat," Busby said.

The picture changes dramatically, depending on specific niches:

  • Churches with budgets of $3 million or less: Giving was down 10 percent (or 12 percent if including a 2-percent adjustment for inflation);
  • Churches with budgets of $3 million to $10 million: Giving was up 2 percent (or 0 percent with inflation);
  • Churches with budgets of $10 million to $20 million: Giving was up 5 percent (or 3 percent with inflation);
  • Churches with budgets of $20 million or more: Giving was up 8 percent (or 6 percent with inflation).

"Giving to churches is very flat," Busby observed. "These are challenging days, except for the very largest churches."

Then he continued: "Anecdotally, even from the largest churches growing via multiple sites, the giving increases are probably driven more by greater attendance than by per capita giving."

ECFA also asked its member churches what the greatest obstacles were to greater giving (in other words, greater per-capita giving). Surprisingly, the economy wasn't near the top. Their responses:

  • No. 1: Spiritual complacency.
  • No. 2: Inadequate understanding of biblical generosity.
  • No. 3: Inadequate stewardship by the church.
  • No. 4: Current economic conditions.
  • No. 5: Inadequate senior pastor involvement with giving.

When Busby was asked about how churches have coped with flat or declining giving, Busby said he only had anecdotal insight, with layoffs and reductions in ministry programs the two primary responses of many.

At the conclusion of his remarks on cash giving, Busby shared a brief preview of an ECFA report on church giving and stewardship. In a survey of ECFA member and nonmember churches, ECFA asked how giving went for the first six months of 2013 compared to the first six months of 2012:

  • 68 percent said giving was up for the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year;
  • 22 percent said it was flat;
  • 10 percent said it was down.

These results would seem to suggest potential improvements for churches, although the sizes of the increases or decreases won't be known until ECFA issues its full report.

For more help with church giving, check outIncreasing Giving at Churchand20 Truths about Tithers, both available at ChurchLawAndTaxStore.com.

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