Although churchgoers have been generous in their offerings amid economic woes, churches have still had to make major adjustments to respond to community needs and adapt to the challenging times.
A new survey by LifeWay Research found that 62 percent of churches have received more requests from people outside their congregations for financial assistance in the last year than in previous years.
To meet the demand, 37 percent of churches say they increased their spending to help the needy and 31 percent are exploring the idea of starting a new ministry to help people who are disadvantaged.
At the same time, half of the surveyed churches said they have a greater sense of excitement about the opportunities to minister to those in need.
"When times are tough, the church can be at its best – being, doing and telling the good news of the Gospel," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, in the report.
"In fact, these difficult circumstances are motivating churches to mobilize people for the work of mercy ministries," Stetzer wrote in his blog.
The survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors, conducted in February, found that giving in churches increased by an average of 4 percent in the last year. Twenty-six percent of churches saw a 10 percent or more increase in offerings while 12 percent of churches saw their giving decline by 10 percent or more in 2008.
Also, 71 percent of Protestant churches are either meeting or exceeding their budget.
Despite the generous offerings, more than half of the surveyed pastors say the current economy is negatively impacting their churches. Only 7 percent report being "very negatively" impacted and 30 percent say the economy has had no impact on their churches.
Thirty-five percent of churches say they held salaries for the new year at last year's levels, 6 percent reduced staff salaries, 4 percent laid off one or more employees, and 12 percent delayed construction or other large capital expenses that were planned.
According to the survey, 35 percent of churches say there is a greater sense of caution in their congregations on trying new things that cost money.
Requests from within congregations for financial assistance were reported by 31 percent of churches. Forty percent of churches say most people in their congregation lost their jobs.
Other findings show that some pastors have had to personally invest in their ministry with 27 percent reporting that they paid for more ministry items out of their own pocket than normal.
In some cases, pastors have had to take on a second job to generate more income. Five percent recently added a non-ministry job for more income, 5 percent asked their spouses to add a non-ministry job and 3 percent of pastors have sought writing or speaking opportunities that provide royalties or honoraria.
Only 1 percent of pastors say they seriously considered leaving the ministry for financial reasons.
"It's easy to hunker down with what money you have left," said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. "Yet Jesus Christ told his followers that giving out of your poverty is worth far more than giving out of your surplus. Pastors are living this truth. They are choosing 5-to-1 to give more out of their own pockets, rather than less, to ministry opportunities."