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General philanthropic giving is decreasing as the economy worsens, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported earlier this month. But experts say church giving will likely increase for at least the next year.

Economists are unwilling to predict the length and depth of a potential economic recession, said Wheaton College professor of economics P. J. Hill, although they agree that the economy is slowing down.

"It's early to make an assessment about whether we are going into a very short, sharp one, or whether it's going to be an extended period of time say two or three years," Hill said. "There's a huge amount of controversy about how long and how deep it is going to be."

Despite the recession, "the fundamentals of the economy remain strong," as they say—at least for church giving.

Based on past recessions, church members will keep giving to their congregations, at least for now, said Sylvia Ronsvalle, executive vice president of empty tomb inc., a research ministry based in central Illinois.

"The data suggest that decreasing giving is not the first thing church members do in tough economic times," said Ronsvalle, who has been studying Christian giving in detail since 1988. "If this is an extended downturn, in the second year you might begin to see a retraction in church-member giving."

In fact, Ronsvalle's research shows that church giving as a percentage of income was higher during the early years of the Great Depression — around 3.5 percent — than at any point since then.

By the end of the Great Depression, however, church giving had crashed to 1.5 percent of members' income. Data from the last six recessions show mixed results—in three of the recessions giving declined, while in three it increased—but ...

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October 2008

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