Although polls in recent years agree that the size and number of religious congregations are changing, a new study surprisingly found that revenue is not necessarily changing along with participation.
The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving study of 1,231 congregations found that 48% of them saw an increase in revenue, 35% saw a decrease and 17% had no change. However there were significant differences in how various religious traditions fared. This table indicates the percentage of individual parishes, congregations, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship that increased, had no change or decreased in participation and revenue:
|Catholic Parishes||24% increased||31% increased|
|23% no change||13% no change|
|53% decreased||56% decreased|
|Mainline Protestant Church||32% increased||48% increased|
|19% no change||14% no change|
|49% decreased||38% decreased|
|Black Protestant Church||62% increased||59% increased|
|11% no change||14% no change|
|27% decreased||27% decreased|
|Evangelical Protestant Church||42% increased||51% increased|
|30% no change||21% no change|
|28% decreased||28% decreased|
|Other Religious Groups||37% increased||53% increased|
|17% no change||14% no change|
|46% decreased||33% decreased|
These figures are the basis for the study’s statement: “Among congregations that are declining in attendance, there is not necessarily an automatic corresponding decline in revenue.”
While there may be a variety of reasons for this, the bottom line (pun intended) may be quite simple. Brad Fulton, who co-directed the study, noted that if the old maxim that 20% of a congregation’s participants give 80% of donations remains true, it might explain why giving has stayed steady or increased. “The people who are really committed tend to give a lot more. If you remove the people who don’t give much, the average amount per person is going to go up.”
For readers of this blog, the main take-away of the study is its conclusion that congregations need to do a better job of asking for money.
Some parish leaders are hesitant to ask. Some have regular asks but the method of asking or the underlying message delivered is not effective. Most congregational leaders don’t teach about the theology of giving and don’t do a good enough job of thanking those who give.
One observation from the study: many older congregants are now in a position to give more at exactly the time when congregations need it the most. There is a significant transfer of wealth taking place right now, and by and large congregations are not doing a good job of being recipients of that. Hosting a planned giving workshop with a local financial consultant at your congregation can give people the education they need to give generously to your church. Organizing a legacy society with yearly acknowledgement to members can also inspire donors who might otherwise be putting off making estate plans. Here we provide a downloadable free manual on church planned giving to start organizing your efforts to inspire generosity.
So I close this post with a true story. A friend related that her pastor gave an excellent sermon last week, introducing the annual pledge drive… excellent except for one unfortunate turn of phrase. The pastor mentioned that the parish was entering ‘stewardship season’, and my friend thought to herself, “Shouldn’t all year be stewardship season?” A focus on stewardship is not something the church should do only at the time of the annual pledge drive, or the capital campaign, or when the boiler goes out… it should be done in season and out of season.
Your stewardship calendar should be full of interesting and innovative stewardship actions during the year. Some of these actions should clearly be ‘asking for money.’ But many others can be sermons and conversations on the meaning of stewardship…they can be observations on the generous missional outreaches of the congregations… they can be brief monthly talks during the service, by parishioners, of what the church means to them… they can be activities that celebrate and thank people for their volunteer participation in the life of the church.
As we prepare to enter a special season of giving let us remember that every season is stewardship season.
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