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Giving as percentage of income at new low

Giving as percentage of income at new low

Donations to mainline Protestant churches as a percentage of income is at its lowest level in at least 41 years, according to an RNS report published in the Huffington Post.

Parishioners gave about 2.38 percent of their income to their church, according to “The State of Church Giving through 2009,” a new report being released Friday (Oct. 14) by Empty Tomb inc., a Christian research agency in Champaign, Ill.

Just over 2 percent of income went toward congregational finances, such as operating costs and building expenses. Only 0.34 percent of parishioner income went to what Empty Tomb calls “benevolences,” such as charities and seminary training beyond the four walls of the church.

Those are new lows, at least going back to the first report in 1968.

The Empty Tomb report is based on data from mainline churches — Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and others — because data was not available for evangelical or Roman Catholic churches. Still, authors say the trends in the mainline are broadly representative of all U.S. churches.

Not necessarily the economy.

At first glance, the lagging economy would appear to be a primary culprit. Edith H. Falk, chair of Chicago-based Giving USA Foundation, indicated this summer that the biggest drops in more than 40 years occurred in 2008 and 2009, as the recession took its greatest toll.

The Empty Tomb report also pinpointed 2008 as the greatest year-to-year drop since the first report was compiled in 1968. But Sylvia Ronsvalle, Empty Tomb’s executive vice president and the report’s co-author, said previous research identifies no clear pattern that shows donations dropped during past recessions.

In other words, the recession is only partly to blame, if at all.

“What we did find is giving tends not to decline in recession years, though it might in fact have declined in years around recessions,” she said.

This is the second consecutive year that Ronsvalle’s report has shown a drop in total contributions and tithing. More alarming, she said, is an ongoing decline in benevolence spending.

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John D. Andrews

This may not be the reason in all cases. But, many people do not want to pledge to a church just to keep a building open and pay staff wages. They want to see relevant and authentic ministry happening; that they will pledge to support.

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