(Photo: First Baptist Dallas)
Bigger churches are attracting big donations and have fewer problems meeting their budgets even in tough economic times, according to findings reported in The Economic Outlook of Very Large Churches.
The report, recently released by the Leadership Network, notes that megachurches are doing so well that some 74 percent of them plan to increase salaries this year while most also plan to increase staff numbers in the future.
The findings in the report are based on two Leadership Network Surveys completed by 729 churches. One survey looked at the economic forecast of the churches for coming months, while the other examined details such as salary, staffing and budget trends.
According to the report, the recession, which began in 2008, did not slow the growth of most large U.S. churches. "Growing churches felt it (recession) less than churches that were plateaued or in decline. Larger-attendance churches likewise felt it less than smaller churches," said the report.
The First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, is one of the churches on the cutting edge of this big church trend. The group is expected to complete the largest church building campaign in modern American history when it opens its doors to a new $130 million facility on Easter Sunday, March 31.
The church, led by Pastor Robert Jeffress, began its building campaign in 2009, at the height of the economic downturn. "At a time when suburban megachurches are the norm and research shows that many people no longer feel the Church is relevant, First Baptist is committed to the Bible and to downtown Dallas," said Jeffress in a recent statement. "People are hungry not for religion but for the Word of God. First Baptist Dallas is built on the Bible, and because of that we are growing."
The report found that the majority, 70 percent, of churches with congregations of 2,000 or more reported an increase in the amount of money collected during worship services in 2012 when compared with collections in 2011.
A solid 18 percent of churches saw increased collection of more than 10 percent over the previous year and more than 25 percent of them saw growth of 6-8 percent.
And when it comes to cash collections, the bigger the church congregation, the greater the financial increase in collection, notes the report. Among churches with less than a 1,000 faithful members, just 52 percent of them reported an increase in church offerings. Some 17 percent said collections were the same while 31 percent said their collections were down.
Among churches with a congregation of 1,000-1,999 members, some 63 percent of them reported increased collections while 20 percent said the amount was stable and 17 percent reported a decline.
The report notes that the financial growth came in tandem with increased attendance at the churches as well. Among church congregations with 2,000 or more members, 79 percent of them grew their flock. Of that number, 52 percent reported single digit increases while 27 percent had double-digit increases. Seven percent said they had no growth while 14 percent had a drop in membership.
While acknowledging the difficulty in calculating a national average of the amount of money contributed by church members, the report also cited secondary research reflecting that about 33 percent of the people who attend church give no donations at all. Another 33 percent gives $500 or less annually, while the remainder gives $500 or more. Among church attenders who identified as Christians, about 20 percent reported giving nothing to a church or religious organization.
The report also highlights that individuals who attend church more frequently are more likely to give a higher percentage of their income to charity, including their church. Other research also found that the median portion of household income given to church is about seven percent.