By Kent E. Fillinger
Total giving to U.S. nonprofits rose 7.5 percent in 2011, an increase of $24.2 billion over the 2010 total. Although religious institutions represent the largest sector of this giving, those gifts decreased from 37 percent of the total in 2010 to 36 percent in 2011.1 Therefore, while charitable giving increased overall, religious nonprofits, including churches, received a smaller piece of the pie.
A Barna Group and Omni Poll from April 2011 found that “69 percent of American adults said they had reduced their giving to churches/religious centers and other nonprofits within the preceding three months and 24 percent said they stopped all giving to churches.”2 Giving to churches and religion is forecast to increase 1.7 percent in 2012.3
Writer/consultant Ben Stroup said,
Given the tumultuous economic realities for everyone, the “new normal” has created a more empowered giver who is asking more questions, expecting more say in how funds are used, and is more demanding of the results. This is the antithesis of the traditional church’s approach to undesignated giving which believes the giver gives to God, while the leader disburses the funds with limited accountability from the person in the pew.
People don’t have a giving problem; they have a giving to their church problem. The bottom line is this: American Christians see their money as theirs, not God’s. This fundamental shift in perspective moves the decision from a disciplined response informed by principles of stewardship to arbitrary generosity acted upon in the midst of an emotional experience.4
What Do We Give?
This article looks at giving to churches in all four size categories surveyed this year: megachurches and emerging megachurches (see last week’s report), large churches (see the statistical summary on pages 6, 7), and medium-size churches (watch for next week’s issue).
The average general fund for both megachurches and emerging megachurches was down slightly last year, while large and medium churches experienced a modest increase in giving to the general fund compared to 2010. The average weekly per-person giving for both megachurches and emerging megachurches was $26, and the average weekly per person giving at large and medium churches was $28. Giving levels ranged from $9 per person at one megachurch to $47 per person at an emerging megachurch.
Are the members of these churches tithing? Far from it. That conclusion comes by comparing the per-person 2011 general fund giving for each church with the IRS adjusted gross income average from 2008 tax filings using the zip code where each church is located.
The average megachurch attendee gave the smallest percentage of her income to the church at 2.2 percent. The average medium church attendee contributed the highest percentage of his income to the church at 2.7 percent. Emerging megachurch attendees and large church attendees gave 2.5 and 2.6 percent, respectively.
The combined debt load for the 232 churches represented was more than $1 billion. The average church in this survey had $4.52 million in debt at the end of 2011, and the overall debt increased over the past year.
How Do We Give?
“The tradition of passing the church plate might become a relic of the past, as a majority of Americans pay bills electronically and move away from using cash or writing checks.”5 In 2008, when megachurches and emerging megachurches in this study were first asked about online giving, 62 percent said they offered it. Three years later, that figure has risen to 85 percent among megachurches and emerging megachurches, and 69 percent among all the churches surveyed.
Tom Moll, senior minister of Christ’s Church at Mason (Ohio), said his church has been using online giving for two years. When it was first offered, about 2 or 3 percent of the church’s offerings were given online, Moll said, but today total online giving is up to 15 percent. Gateway Christian Church launched online giving five years ago, said executive pastor Jeff Ranson, “The first year of online giving, 4.6 percent of our giving was from the online source. This past year it constituted 19.4 percent of our general fund income.”
Some churches are beginning to experiment with giving kiosks that can be placed throughout the church facility. Overall, 9 percent of the churches surveyed are using giving kiosks; among megachurches, the figure is 17 percent.
“We have been using one giving kiosk for just over 2 years,” said Craig Zastrow, executive pastor at Central Christian Church (Beloit, Wisconsin). “We receive between 1 and 3 percent of our overall offering through the kiosk. We have had people use the kiosk that we have no record of giving before.”
First Christian Church of Huntington Beach (California) has used two giving kiosks for over 18 months; 4 percent of the church’s average weekly offering is given through the kiosks, and it continues to increase.
Giving, Spending, and Growth
Giving exceeded the overall budget at 43 percent of the churches last year, and those churches grew an average of 5.7 percent. On the flip side, giving at 30 percent of the churches failed to meet the budgeted need, but those churches managed to grow an average of 3 percent.
Overall ministry spending increased at 55 percent of the churches surveyed, and those churches grew an average of 6.4 percent last year. The 20 percent of churches that decreased ministry spending last year did not grow at all, and the remaining quarter of churches that neither raised nor lowered ministry spending grew an average of 2.3 percent last year.
Staff size remained consistent at 45 percent of the churches, the survey showed. This group of churches grew an average of 3.7 percent. The 37 percent of churches that increased full-time staff grew an average of 7.1 percent. The 18 percent of churches that cut back on staff size grew slightly, an average of 1.1 percent. Megachurches spent 48 percent of their budgets on staffing, highest among churches surveyed, while large churches spent the least, 44 percent. Twenty-six churches spent 35 percent or less of the annual budget on staffing.
Megachurches, large churches, and medium churches all designated 14 percent of their budgets to outreach ministries beyond the walls of the church, with emerging megachurches close behind at 13 percent.
1“Atlas of Giving Proves Charitable Giving in the U.S. Outpaced Economic Growth in 2011,” 18 January 2012, atlasofgiving.com.
2“Giving Less” Outreach, September/October 2011, 32.
3“January 2012 Saw Rise in Charitable Giving, Atlas of Giving Finds,” 21 February 2012, www.fundraisingsuccessmag.com.
4Ron Keener, “Problem Giving,” Church Executive, January 2012, 7.
5Susan Schept, “Church collection plates may go empty as electronic giving rises,” 23 January 2011, www.reuters.com.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.