Churches struggle with decrease in giving
Pastor William Lee of the Peoria Outreach Center is keenly aware of how hard this recession is hitting Peoria. He sees it every day.
“Most of our congregation and people we reach out to are low income to start with and have a hard time meeting ends themselves,” says Lee, who oversees an inner city ministry at the top of Main Street.
“We depend a lot on outside giving from other churches and private donors. We’re seeing more and more people needing help. Our soup kitchen is full every day. People are wanting more and more counseling and encouragement.
“Times seem to be uncertain for many these days. People are not sure of their future anymore, and they’re just not giving.”
The Rev. Kathy Lossau of Northside United Methodist Church in Springfield has a similar ministry and similar financial problems. With only about 70 members, the church has been unable to meet its projected $120,000 budget. Lossau lists the bills that must be paid — electricity, water, employee salaries, building insurance, telephone, day-to-day operating expenses — and says Northside is operating on a week-to-week basis.
“We serve a lot of lower-middle income and fixed-income families. We serve a lot of single-parent families,” said Lossau. “We do encourage tithing, but we also recognize that when there is tremendous financial downturn that people can’t always do that. We also don’t encourage families to let their children go hungry or without shoes or without winter coats and so forth, obviously. Those basic, day-to-day care needs must come first.”
A new survey from The Barna Group, which does research for religious groups, shows that more than 150 million adults have been affected by the economic turbulence. Barna predicts that church giving and offerings will take a sustained, across-the-board hit into 2009, according to the article “Churches Stand to Lose Several Billion Dollars in Lost Donations Due to Economic Downturn” at www.barna.org.
One out of every five households has reduced giving to churches or religious centers, the article stated. Among those who have decreased their giving, 22 percent have stopped tithing altogether.
“The giving patterns we’re witnessing suggest that churches, alone, will receive some $3 billion to $5 billion dollars less than expected during this fourth quarter,” the article quoted George Barna, whose company conducted the survey.
“The average church can expect to see its revenues dip about 4 percent to 6 percent lower than would have been expected without the economic turmoil. We anticipate that a greater percentage of church-goers will decrease both their giving levels and frequency over the next year or so. This is a time for church leaders to demonstrate restraint and wisdom in their financial decisions.”
But not every church is experiencing empty collection plates, and not every decision can be put off until better times return.
Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, for example, has been planning for years to build a new $22.6 million sanctuary to handle its growing congregation.
“No one knew when we started this a few years ago that the economy would do this. ... We’re continuing to build,” said Rev. Ben Johnston, the senior pastor. “The good news is, some of the (material) pricing has come down. That’s helped. Our pledge drive — the major one — ends at the end of June. At this point, we are on track.”
But what Johnston has noticed is that members are saying they are feeling the pinch of their pledges more than they expected.
“I think they’re giving more sacrificially. People give to what they believe in. I think it speaks to the generosity of people in this area. And they realize this is maybe the time to give even more,” Johnston added.
The Rev. Randy Williams of Peoria’s Glen Oak Christian Church agrees.
“Giving is spiritual. I feel like I have been timid in the past to talk money to the church because it would seem self-serving. I am over that because I realize if people give, they can grow in faith.”
He quotes Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“Understanding that passage differently has made it easier for me to talk to them about giving,” Williams said.
The Rev. Dale Schaeffer, senior pastor at Bridgeway Community Church in Morton, says his congregation has actually increased its giving to help the church open a second campus in Pekin.
“I would say this though, we have had a number of people who have been impacted by losing their jobs. The second thing we’ve noticed is an increased interest,” Schaeffer said. “We probably have three times as many people new to the church since the economy took a downturn.”
Still, if the collection plate is lighter, churches can turn to other methods of raising money. Northside United Methodist Church has had targeted fundraisers to benefit youths, pay the building insurance and take care of general operating expenses.
“We try not to do fundraisers for general operating if we can manage that. We try to reserve them for particular needs,” Lossau said. Northside also received a grant from Ameren for hardship needs for not-for-profits.
The grant helped the church with two months of its electric bill. Lossau said the grant not only covered the electric bill in November and December, but “it did mean that we were able to pay our building insurance this month.”
Jennifer Davis can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.