Report: Megachurches Getting Bigger Despite Bad Economy

Megachurches across the country are holding their own during uncertain economic times, a new survey shows.

Most megachurches continue to see attendance and giving rise, and the bigger the church is, the more likely it is to experience increases, Leadership Network reported in its 2010 Large Church Economic Outlook Report.

Survey results indicate that the economic downturn is having little impact on America's larger churches. One hundred percent of churches with 8,000 or more attendees experienced growth in attendance and giving from 2009 to 2010. And all surveyed churches with attendance of 10,000 to 14,999 plan to reach this year's budget projections.

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Overall, 81 percent of megachurches – congregations with attendance of 2,000 or more – saw more attendees and only 9 percent reported lower attendance. Sixty-seven percent of megachurches increased their budget, with the average increase being three percent, and the same proportion said they expect to meet their 2010 budget.

Most church leaders anticipate that their congregations will finish 2010 in the black financially, according to the report.

Not all megachurches are riding out the economic storm smoothly. One Michigan pastor surveyed in the report noted that attendees have been holding back.

"Our Michigan economy hasn't gotten worse; I just think people have pulled back giving, out of a scarcity mindset. Truly, it is a spiritual issue we haven't effectively addressed as a church, but not because we haven't been trying," the unidentified church leader said.

While 71 percent said in an April-May survey that they believe the economy is having "no impact" or a "slightly negative" impact on the church and its ministries, only 58 percent said the same in the October survey.

Sixty-four percent of megachurches gave church staff an increase in salary from 2009 to 2010, but the majority of the pay increases were only one to three percent. Only four percent of megachurches cut salaries in 2010. The rest kept salaries the same.

Some of the ways megachurches have been adjusting to the downturn include employing more volunteers, increasing emphasis on financial training classes and creating more financial cushion in the church bank account.

Notably, about one third of megachurches have shifted more of their budget toward external ministry.

For 2010, 34 percent chose "church-wide financial emphasis designed to help the poor or needy" as their top priority. Thirty-one percent said a capital funds drive for new property or building was a priority.

Looking towards 2011, the majority of surveyed church leaders say any increase in spending would most likely go toward missions giving, followed by information technology and facilities. Nineteen percent anticipate moderate or significant increases in facilities spending next year.

The area least likely to see an increase in budget allocation for 2011 is program-related spending.

David Fletcher, executive pastor of The Chapel of Akron in Ohio, said the recession has actually had a positive impact on churches.

"The recession is helping us focus on what we really need and want to do," he said, as quoted in the report. "This is not a time for superfluous programs or overweight expenses. God is using the recession to help us hone what we do and why. It is a great opportunity."

Warren Bird, director of research at Leadership Network, concluded that though some megachurches were crippled by the economy, most are showing a strong sense of resiliency and general optimism.

He noted, "The majority of megachurch leaders plan to hold the line with flat budgets and moderate – if any – expansion plans in 2011. However, a healthy percentage is willing to take calculated steps forward."

The 2010 Large Church Economic Outlook Report is based on findings from a survey of 253 large churches. It is the second in a three-part series examining the impact of the recession on America's larger churches.

The first report was released in September and details the salaries of church staff and church budgets. The third report will be released in December.

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