by Mark Jones

After the economic crisis that began in 2008 triggered the Great Recession, news media reported countless stories of the impact on individual churches. Few of those stories included trends, because the data simply wasn’t available. Today, the numbers are in, and some of them are surprising.

The School of Philanthropy at Indiana University recently published the findings of a survey they conducted with more than 3000 churches. How did the Great Recession impact churches and how have congregations responded? Here are some key findings.

  • U.S.congregations are generally improving financially. However, those with older attendees and those whose clergy are uninformed about congregational giving are experiencing the greatest challenges.
  • Despite overall positive trends in fundraising receipts, pledges, and budgeting in 2011, the majority of congregations’ revenues have not kept pace with inflation in recent years.
  • Changes in average congregational gift size and the number of donors are the main drivers of fundraising success.
  • Congregations are increasing their budgets in the areas of missions and revenue-generating activity.
  • Congregations have more work to do in the area of educating congregations on financial planning and charitable giving.
  • The majority of congregations employ some type of electronic giving.

Are these findings consistent with what has happened at your church? If you have been successful in one of these areas, to what would attribute your success?

At my church, we weathered the Great Recession well, not that any one of us can take any credit. I do, however, believe that maintaining adequate cash reserves before the recession hit was one critical reason we were able to stay focused on our mission and vision. And by being transparent and letting our congregation know that we would live on what was given, we were able to build trust in a time of uncertainty.

What did your church or ministry do that helped it get through the Great Recession?

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