Upturn in Economy Reflected in the Offering Plate

tithes and offerings

Based on the responses of 1,000 Protestant pastors, many church members are giving at or above last year’s level. In a LifeWay Research survey conducted in late August and early September, 79 percent of pastors said 2018 offerings are matching or exceeding last year’s numbers. More than four in 10 (42 percent) say 2018 giving at their church is outpacing 2017 giving. Only 15 percent say giving is down this year.

As a result of increased giving, more churches also are on track to meet their yearly budget. Seventy-seven percent of pastors report that 2018 offerings have met expectations, and 29 say offerings have outpaced expectations. Only 19 percent say giving isn’t meeting budgetary goals.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, says these results correlate with news of an improved American economy. “The increases in offerings so many churches are experiencing coincide with what most economists refer to as ‘full employment,’ as well as increased wage growth in 2018,” he says. Retirees also are able to contribute more to churches now, McConnell notes. “Inflation has allowed Social Security recipients—likely some of the most faithful donors in many churches—to receive cost of living increases above two percent for two years in a row.”

Higher giving levels may provide struggling churches some much-needed time to bounce back from the Great Recession, which hit wallets hard at the end of the last decade. But there’s no guarantee the good financial news will continue, McConnell warns. “This could be short-lived, as wage growth adjusted for inflation has been about zero in recent months.”

Not All Churches Are Experiencing Increased Giving

Offering figures vary according to church size as well as denomination. Almost half (49 percent) of congregations with 100 or more weekly worshipers report increased giving in 2018, compared to just more than one-third (36 percent) of smaller churches.

Among denominations, Pentecostals (54 percent) and Baptists (50 percent) report that offerings are up from last year. Fewer pastors of Presbyterian/Reformed (34 percent), Lutheran (33 percent) and Methodist (31 percent) churches say giving has increased.

African-Americans pastors are most likely (42 percent) to say financial contributions are below 2017 levels. They’re also almost three times as likely as white pastors to say the current U.S. economy is negatively affecting their church.

Recent Trends in Church Offerings

LifeWay Research has surveyed pastors annually about church finances since 2009, and this is the first year that more respondents say the country’s economy is having a positive effect, not a negative effect, on their church. Forty-five percent of pastors say the current economy benefits their congregation, 35 percent say it isn’t a factor, and 14 percent say it harms their congregation.

By contrast, in 2010 four-fifths (80 percent) of pastors said the economy was hurting their church. Since then, that number has fallen steadily, LifeWay Research reveals.

“Pastor’s perceptions are finally catching up to the economic reality,” says McConnell, who notes that “most trackable forces in the economy have been positive for several years.” As for recent tax-reform measures, McConnell says, “Pastors are optimistic it will not hurt their church’s finances.”

Many churches experience a boost in financial donations at year’s end. Pastor Rick Warren offers four tips for making the most of your holiday giving campaign.

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 26 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.

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