Americans Pass Economic Woes to Churches

Americans are adjusting their expenditures and cutting back wherever possible to adapt to the economic downturn, which includes for many people reducing donations to churches, according to a new survey.

Over the past three months, one out of every five households (20 percent) has decreased their giving to churches or other religious centers, according to The Barna Group.

Downscale households (30 percent), families struggling with "serious financial debt" (43 percent), those who lost 20 percent or more of their retirement fund value (31 percent), and people who have lost 20 percent or more of the value in their stock portfolio (29 percent) are among the people most likely to cut back on church giving.

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Among those who reduced their donations to churches, 19 percent dropped their giving by as much as 20 percent; five percent decreased their funding by 21 to 49 percent; 17 percent reduced their gift by half, and 11 percent cut their support by more than half.

A surprisingly large proportion, 22 percent, stopped their offering to churches altogether.

Upscale households were also surprisingly most likely to have reduced their giving to religious centers (48 percent), followed by people under the age of 25 (47 percent). Hispanics (43 percent), non-born again Christians (40 percent), and sociopolitical moderates (39 percent) were among the list of groups most likely to cut back on church offering.

George Barna, whose company conducted the survey, noted that most churches depend on fourth quarter giving to make up at least one-third of their annual income, but that churches should not expect normal giving patterns this year.

"The giving patterns we're witnessing suggest that churches, alone, will receive some $3 billion to $5 billion dollars less than expected during this fourth quarter," Barna commented.

"The average church can expect to see its revenues dip about 4 percent to 6 percent lower than would have been expected without the economic turmoil. We anticipate that other non-profit organizations will be hit even harder."

In response to the economic downturn, many churches across America are giving special talks or counseling on the topic.

The Barna survey found that 35 percent of respondents said their church had offered a special talk about the financial hardship and ways to respond to it.

A similar proportion of people (37 percent) said their church had offered specific opportunities for personal financial counseling.

Meanwhile, slightly more than half of Christian church attendees (52 percent) said their church increased the amount of material assistance to congregants in the past few months, such as food, clothing and other basic needs.

Nearly three-quarters of churchgoers said their church offered special prayer for those struggling financially.

George Barna advises church leaders to "reconfigure their financial models" and plan to spend "more cautiously" over the next two or three quarters.

"Even if a congregation continues to grow numerically, this is not a good time to use dated financial projections and models. People's attitudes about generosity have been altered, as shown by their immediate donation behavior," Barna said.

"We anticipate that a greater percentage of church-goers will decrease both their giving levels and frequency over the next year or so. This is a time for church leaders to demonstrate restraint and wisdom in their financial decisions."

The survey is based on telephone interviews with 1,203 adults in the United States, age 18 and older, from Nov. 1 to 5.

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