A growing number of US pastors believe the economy is harming their churches: LifeWay

Photo: Getty Images/ColorBlind
Photo: Getty Images/ColorBlind

An increasing number of Protestant pastors in the United States believe that the economy is having a negative effect on their churches, according to a new report by LifeWay Research.

LifeWay released a report on Tuesday which found that a little under a third of surveyed pastors (30 percent) believed that the economy was having a positive effect on their congregations.

This was a decline from last year when 45 percent of pastors said it was positive. The number of pastors saying the economy was having a negative effect increased over the past year, from 14 percent in 2018 to 26 percent in 2019.

The jump from 14 percent to 26 percent represented the first increase in the number of pastors who felt the economy was harming their churches since 2010, according to LifeWay.

African-American pastors are more likely to respond that the economy is having a negative effect (49 percent), as are pastors of smaller churches (37 percent).

“Fundamentally, the U.S. economy is in a similar place that it was a year ago,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, in a statement. “Yet pastors are less optimistic about this outside influence on their church than they were in 2018.”

For its report, LifeWay interviewed 1,000 Protestant pastors over the phone from Aug. 30 to Sept. 24, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Other findings of the report included 64 percent of respondents saying that the 2018 tax reform has had no impact on their churches and 37 percent saying that this year’s offerings have been higher than 2018, while 21 percent said they have been lower.

Last month, the Reverend Franklin Graham argued that churches have benefited because of President Donald Trump’s tax cuts and economy.

In an interview with best-selling author and radio host Eric Metaxas, Graham argued that the Trump administration has created “an economy that is just screaming forward.”

“Here’s what that does for churches, for Christians,” explained Graham. “More people are working, so there’s more people tithing and giving to the churches.”

“There’s more money for missions, there’s more money for your building programs. All of this is because Donald Trump said that he was going to turn things around and make America great again. He cut taxes and that cutting taxes added fuel to this economic engine.”

Professor and evangelical activist Warren Throckmorton took issue with this claim, pointing out that Nonprofit Quarterly reported a decline in giving to religion from 2017-2018.

“The tax law increased the standard deduction so many people may not have donated as much because they didn’t get a deduction for reporting it,” wrote Throckmorton.

“Some may be saving up deductions for the 2019 tax year so the immediate effect won’t be known for awhile. However, there was no immediate obvious bump up in religious giving.”

Throckmorton went on to point out that Samaritan’s Purse, a charity which Graham oversees, experienced an 11 percent decline in giving from 2017 to 2018.

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