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60% of Congregations' Giving Not Keeping Up with Inflation

Study: Giving is up, but so are costs. Now lots of pastors are talking more about giving.

The majority of U.S. congregations reported increased giving throughout the economic recession, according to a new report from the Indiana University School of Philanthropy. But it's not all good news: Most congregations also reported significant spending increases–and less than half said their revenue kept up with inflation.

According to the report, "only about 4 in 10 congregations had revenues that kept pace or were ahead of inflation between 2007 and 2011. Congregations with the oldest average age of attendees were more likely to report that revenue growth lagged behind inflation."

Philanthropic success appears tied not only to the age of congregants, but also to pastors' attention to giving. Almost half of churches and other religious congregations participating in the survey said clergy or pastors do not know who gives and how much they give–and only 36 percent of evangelical Protestant churches said their pastors know. However, those congregations whose clergy do pay attention to individuals' giving and trends were more likely to report positive fundraising growth.

The recession affected preaching in many American congregations, the survey said. About 4 in 10 congregations said their leaders are preaching or talking more about the importance of charitable giving since the recession began, with 13 percent saying there has been a significant rise in such preaching. But about half of respondents said leaders haven't changed their emphasis on giving in recent years. (Only 5% said they were talking less about giving.)

The survey wasn't quite representative of the U.S. congregational landscape. It over-represented mainline Protestant churches (of the 3,103 survey participants, 61% were mainline Protestants; other surveys show they're about 18% of the population) and non-Christian congregations. Catholic churches were only 1.1 percent of the survey (they're about a quarter of the U.S. population) and black churches were also under-represented. Evangelical churches were close enough, though: they make up about a quarter of the population and the survey respondents.

CT previously has reported on giving and the recession, including a look at how evangelicals give and whether or not American evangelicals are stingy. CT also recently examined whether or not giving to charity should be considered part of one's tithe.

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