Weathering the Financial Crisis

weathering the storm

The 2009 Congregational Economic Impact Study has just been released jointly by the Alban Institute and the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University. The report indicates that the large congregation is weathering this financial crisis better than the small to mid-sized congregation.

“Growth congregations,” those where attendance and finances have been growing over the past five years, were more likely to report positive fundraising results. Congregations with $600,000 to $999,999 in revenue, weekly attendance of more than 300 people, younger congregants (average age under 50), and those reporting a higher average income of congregants (greater than $60,000) were more likely to report an increase in fundraising receipts.

“Survival congregations,” those where attendance and finances have dropped by more than 10 percent over the past five years, were more likely to report a decline in fundraising.  Other congregations that were more likely to report a decrease included those with annual revenue of less than $150,000, weekly attendance of less than 100 people, older congregants (average age 61 or older), and those where the average income of congregants was less than $40,000.

The report doesn’t attempt to explain why larger congregations are better able to weather this particular financial storm better than smaller congregations. I suppose it simply stands to reason that larger institutional bodies have more stability, deeper pockets, and more leadership resources to cope in times of economic recession. On the other hand, larger churches have huge payrolls and large facilities to maintain. Those costs rarely decrease during a recession. And congregations that rely on endowment income (or whose congregants rely heavily on investment income) have been particularly hard hit by this economic crisis. So why are larger congregations doing better? Check out the report and let me know your thoughts.

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One Response to “Weathering the Financial Crisis”

  1. Susan Nienaber Says:

    This research reminds me of the Hartford Institute study (Facts on Growth: Faith Communities Today 2005 of the same factors in this current study of congregations that are doing better in the midst of the economic downturn, such as average age of members, corresponds to predictors of growth or decline as articulated in the Hartford study. We have certainly known for some time that large churches are getting larger and fairing better overall – even prior to the recession.

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