Study: Churches slowly recover from recession
Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service
April 28, 2011

Study: Churches slowly recover from recession

Study: Churches slowly recover from recession
Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service
April 28, 2011

The recession was a double-barrel blow to American

congregations: directly hurting their budgets while also stretching them thin

due to increased needs for counseling, emergency housing and other social


But the worst seems to be over, according to a report

released April 21 that found that one in 10 have begun to recover from the

loss, and more than 40 percent are now stable or increasing financially.

The “Holy Toll” report, based on the 2010 Faith Communities

Today national survey of more than 20 religious groups, found that more than

half (57 percent) of U.S. congregations reported their income had declined due

to the recession.

Researcher David A. Roozen, director of the Hartford

Institute for Religion Research, said larger congregations seem to be

recovering more easily as endowments and investment income rebound, and more

members who can help them grow their way out of deficits.

His theory echoes last month’s State of the Plate report by

the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and Christianity Today

International’s church management team, which found smaller churches had

suffered a disproportionate drop in giving last year.

Roozen’s survey, based on data from more than 11,000

congregations, found the recession had hurt congregations across the spectrum,

surprising researchers who “almost always find differences” between evangelical

and mainline Protestant churches.

Nine percent of congregations said the recession had

prompted layoffs or furloughs, and just over a quarter of congregations

reported salary freezes or reductions.

With about 350,000 congregations in the U.S. employing about

1.5 million clergy and other staff, that translates to more than 500,000 people

who lost jobs or had their salaries reduced, and about 50,000 prospective

employees who weren’t hired, according to the report.

At the same time, congregations had to ramp up outreach

services due to the recession’s toll on local communities. Nearly half of all

congregations experienced an increase in requests for cash assistance, and

nearly one in four received moderate to major increases in requests for

emergency housing.

“Those congregations whose finances were hit the hardest, a

lot of their members were unemployed, so you had members who were financially

stressed, you had communities who were financial stressed, on top of the fact

that the congregations’ own financial resources as measured by income was down,”

Roozen said.

But even congregations that have recovered from the

recession are still struggling with a general economic downturn for America’s

religious organizations. From 2000 to 2008 — before the recession’s toll —

congregations reporting “excellent financial health” had dropped from 31

percent to 19 percent; the number is now about 14 percent.

Meanwhile, congregations reporting financial difficulty more

than doubled, to nearly 20 percent, in the past decade.

“That the worst is over doesn’t necessarily mean that things

are getting better,” Roozen explained, estimating that at least 5 percent of

congregations won’t be able to rebound. “These are challenging times. Most

congregations aren’t feeling devastated by the recession (anymore), but it’s

exacerbating those downward trends… it’s not something that congregations

move easily out of.”

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