A "State of the Plate" survey released March 27 shows that donations to congregations, especially for megachurches, rose in 2011 – a sign, according to the research group, that the U.S. economy is indeed making a recovery.
"In the last four years of conducting this research, churches faced the greatest financial downturn of our lifetime. The majority of churches saw declines in giving. Fortunately, in the last year, half saw giving increase. The reasons for the turnaround are an improved economy, higher attendance and a growing commitment by churches to teach biblical financial and generosity principles through sermons, classes and materials. Electronic giving options also make faithful giving easier," a statement on the "State of the Plate" website concluded.
"Charities and churches were hit hard by the recession, but many are now beginning to see increased giving," surmised Brian Kluth, author, speaker and founder of the "State of the Plate" research in a statement. "A better economy, more Bible teaching on finances and generosity and a growing number of online giving options are helping many churches rebound financially."
The results were based on findings from 1,360 congregations of different sizes, and the survey was sponsored by MAXIMUM Generosity, Christianity Today and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Among the more significant results, it was established that 51 percent of churches saw an increase in giving in 2011 – including 70 percent of megachurches, or those with over 2,000 in weekend attendance.
A separate survey conducted by the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches recently revealed that total donations to churches from all denominations in 2010 reached $29 billion, but marked a downturn of almost $1.2 billion.
The new statistics by "State of the Plate" show encouraging signs that the U.S. economy is in recovery, although it is noteworthy that only 39 percent of smaller churches, with fewer than 100 members, saw their donations increase. Additionally, of the churches that did not report an increase in donations, nearly one-third (32 percent) admitted that giving was down in 2011.
More than half of all churches that responded to the survey had fewer than 250 members, and most were mainline Protestant, Evangelical Pentecostal and nondenominational congregations – Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox accounted for only one percent of respondents.
The statement on the website also offered an opinion for the rise in donations:
"Our 'View from the Pew' survey shows a direct correlation between people's Bible reading practices, giving and debt. The more frequently they read their Bible, the less debt they will have and the more they will give. That makes sense, because the Bible teaches us to avoid debt, be grateful and content with what we have, and to be generous."
The survey also allowed for the churches themselves to give an insight into why they believe 2011 was a good year for donations – and most pointed to an increase in church attendance. Many others also revealed that they had stepped up their efforts to address giving and generosity with the congregation.
Another possible reason for this increase may have been the willingness of churches to be transparent with their finances - 92 percent of churches made their financial statements available by request to members, and 89 percent made their annual budgets accessible.
The majority of churches "really do desire to handle their finances with integrity and they use financial best practices that ensure that integrity," said Matt Branaugh, the editorial director for Christianity Today's Church Management Team.
"If you handle your finances with this kind of integrity up front," he continued, "then people will respond."