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State of the Plate Results

Collections decrease for many, especially in December, new survey shows.

More churches in the United States missed their budgets in 2009 compared to 2008, as the poor economy expanded and collections fell short, results of a new survey show.

Megachurches, in particular, reported notable declines, as did churches of all sizes in western states. And December—a month often viewed as the lifeline that brings the year-end giving churches need to meet their annual budgets—no longer may provide such financial security for church leaders.

The second annual "State of the Plate," survey, conducted by Maximum Generosity and Christianity Today International's Church Finance Today and Leadership, polled more than 1,000 church pastors, staff, and leaders. It asked them to report on their church giving, budgeting, and generosity initiatives.

Churches appear to be in uncharted financial waters. After the October 2008 stock market drop, 29% of churches experienced a decline in giving. In 2009, the number climbed to 38%. Multiple research projects by other organizations last year documented the sharp decline in church giving, and the "State of the Plate" only confirms things worsened for a growing number of churches at the conclusion of 2009.

Five major trends emerged from the survey:

1) The poor economy is hurting a growing number of churches.

While some media headlines suggest signs of improvements in the economy, the offering plates at many churches do not:

  • The number of churches reporting a decline in giving in 2009 increased to 38% of churches surveyed, compared to 29% at the same time a year ago.

  • Only 36% of churches saw giving increase in 2009, compared to 47% a year ago.

  • Megachurches suffered. Nearly half (47%) of churches with 2,000 to 5,000 in weekly worship attendance saw a decrease in their giving in 2009 compared to only 23% the year before. More than ever before, many megachurches are beginning to experience some financial strain and pain because of the economy

  • Pacific states and Mountain states struggled most. Pacific states (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii) were hardest hit, with 55% of churches reporting decreased giving (in 2008, Pacific states also were hardest hit among the country's regions, but only 34% reported a drop in their giving). In 2009, mountain states (Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana) were the next hardest-hit, where 48% of churches saw a decrease in giving.

2) Many churches say December year-end giving fell short.

While Rick Warren's December appeal to more than 100,000 e-mail recipients helped his church adequately close the gap on a year-end budget shortfall, many other churches weren't so fortunate:

  • 32% of churches surveyed said that their December year-end giving "missed" their expectations.

  • Only 23% of churches indicated that year-end giving surpassed their expectation.

  • With nearly a third missing giving expectations at the end of 2009, many churches likely entered 2010 looking for ways to slow their church spending.

3) Some churches decreased their budgets while others increased budgets.

While a growing number of churches trimmed budgets, others increased theirs heading into 2010:

  • 32% said they made budgets cuts of 1% to 20%. A year ago, only 14% said the same. The top three cuts came in the areas of travel and conferences, ministry programs, and expansion/renovation projects.

  • 24% of churches kept their budgets the same as last year.

  • Surprisingly, 45% of churches increased their budgets for the coming year, compared to 23% who said the same a year ago. Churches that increased their budgets did so primarily in the areas of benevolence giving, ministry programs, and missions giving.

4) More churches plan to preach and teach on finances and generosity in a variety of ways.

The Bible provides more than 2,000 verses on finances and generosity and a growing number of churches say they planned, or considered planning, to share God's Word on these subjects through the following:

  • Preaching, 75%
  • Financial classes/courses/groups, 65%
  • Sharing a Bible verse during the offering, 62%
  • Distributing pamphlets, 51%
  • Making financial counselors available, 48%
  • Conducting an annual stewardship drive, 48%
  • Showing videos in the worship service, 44%
  • Giving families a generosity devotional, 43%
  • Providing estate planning materials/seminars, 44%
  • Providing stewardship training for leaders, 40%

5) More churches are using outside resources and guidance.

More churches say they're seeking outside resources to help with church finances, giving, and generosity. The top resources identified by respondents:

  • Dave Ramsey, 58%
  • Crown Financial Ministries, 54%
  • Denominational resources, 44%
  • Brian Kluth/Maximum Generosity, 43%
  • Church Law & Tax Report, 41%
  • Your Church magazine, 35%

The full report on the second annual "State of the Plate" findings is available at ChurchLawAndTaxStore.com.

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