Mixed Picture on the State of Church Finances

Fewer small churches report gains compared to larger churches.

Church Finance Today

Mixed Picture on the State of Church Finances

Fewer small churches report gains compared to larger churches.

When it comes to finances, the new normal for American churches seems to be “just getting by.”

A third of Protestant senior pastors say their church’s giving was under budget in 2015, according to LifeWay Research.

Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, says pastors are still uneasy about their church’s finances.

“Wages grew in 2015, and inflation and unemployment remained low,” said McConnell. “Yet the financial picture for many churches did not improve.”

The most recent telephone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors found 51 percent said the economy is hurting their church—the lowest total since LifeWay began researching the topic in 2009. One in 8 (13 percent) say the economy had a positive effect on their church.

About 3 in 10 (32 percent) pastors say their church failed to make budget. That’s better than 2010 (46 percent), according to LifeWay Research, but not as good as 2012 (22 percent).

In the most recent survey, larger churches fared better than smaller churches. About a third of churches with 100 or more people (32 percent) saw their offerings exceed budget expectations. Among churches of fewer than 100, 1 in 5 (21 percent) had higher than budgeted offerings.

LifeWay Research also asked pastors if offerings at their church increased, remained the same, or declined over the past year.

For the most part, pastors say giving remained steady. Offerings went up in 4 of 10 churches (41 percent); 3 in 10 (29 percent) saw no change; 1 in 5 (21 percent) saw a decline.

Larger churches also fared better in total giving.

About half (51 percent) of churches of more than 100 people saw their offerings go up in 2015. Among churches with less than 100 people, about 1 in 3 (33 percent) had higher offerings in 2015.

Giving to churches and other faith-based causes now makes up about a third (32 percent) of charitable giving in the US—down from 56 percent in the 1980s, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

A recent Faith Communities Today report found the median church budget fell from $150,000 in 2009 to $125,000 in 2014.

Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine. Adapted from “Churches Continue to Face Budget Shortfalls” appearing on LifeWay.com. Used with permission from LifeWay Research.

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