Church Members' Donations up in 2001

Giving by church members increased in 2001 for both internal operations and activities beyond the local church level, a new study by research group Empty Tomb has found.

Giving as a percentage of income increased for total contributions from 2.63 percent in 2000 to 2.66 percent in 2001, based on data from a group of denominations studied by the organization since 1968.

Sylvia Ronsvalle, co-author of the study with her husband, John Ronsvalle, said the findings indicate that church giving was generous in the year when the nation was rocked by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

''The data suggests that church members continued to support their congregations even during a year of social upheaval,'' she said in a statement. ''The upturn in benevolences may suggest that church members chose to help victims of the 9/11 tragedy through their church structures.''

The study by the Champaign, Ill.-based research organization found that giving was higher among mainline Protestant denominations studied than evangelical Protestant ones from the period of 1968 to 2001.

Among denominations tied to the National Council of Churches, per member giving as a percentage of income to congregational finances increased from 2.67 percent to 2.78 percent, a 4 percent jump. There was a 38 percent decline in the category of benevolences, or activities beyond the local congregation, from 0.63 percent in 1968 to 0.39 percent in 2001.

Among denominations affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals, per member giving as a percentage of income to congregational finances declined from 5.01 percent in 1968 to 3.56 percent in 2001, a decline of 29 percent. Giving to benevolences dropped 38 percent from 1.14 percent in 1968 to 0.71 percent in 2001.

''The State of Church Giving through 2001'' was released Wednesday, the 13th in a series published by Empty Tomb.