U.S. megachurches are faring slightly better in the recession than smaller churches, findings from a new study show.
A Leadership Network survey of 555 mostly megachurch pastors found that only 7 percent of the executive church leaders said the economic downturn has had a "very negative" impact on their church.
Forty-nine percent said it has had no impact at all, down slightly from 56 percent six months earlier.
Larger churches are also growing more in attendance than smaller ones. According to the survey, which was conducted in January, 96 percent of churches with 3,000-plus attendances are growing compared to 70 percent of churches that have an attendance of less than 3,000.
Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of the country's largest churches, has seen an upsurge in attendance during the tough economic times. In March, the 30-year-old megachurch had its largest every membership class with 2,400 new church members and baptized around 800 people.
Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren told CNN's Larry King last month that during a recession people search for meaning and thus church attendance increases.
"[B]ad times are good times for churches in many ways, because people are much more open to spiritual truth than any other time. We're seeing spiritual awakening at our church," he said.
Although megachurches have been reporting larger attendance numbers, churchgoing attendance overall has not grown, according to recent polls.
A Gallup poll in March revealed no significant changes in the percentages of Americans attending church weekly or saying religion is important in their daily lives.
Only 42 of Americans said they attend a religious service weekly or almost every week. A year ago, 41 percent reported attending worship service.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life also revealed no increase in weekly worship service attendance during the economic downturn.
But as the new Leadership Network survey shows, megachurches seem to be riding out the economic storm better than other churches.
Dr. Warren Bird, director of Research for Leadership Network and the main author of the survey, notes, however, that they are faring better "only slightly so."
Although less impacted by the recession, megachurches are still feeling a little pressure and proceeding with greater caution and increased transparency.
Over half (53 percent) of the churches said they expect the church's income to rise in 2009. In June 2008, 74 percent had said so.
A majority of the churches (63 percent) still believe their church will meet its budget for 2009. Only 26 percent said their church probably won't.
The survey also found that compared to older churches, a larger number of younger churches expect income to increase this year.