VENTURA, Calif. — The economic recession has hit larger churches harder than it
has smaller ones, according to a new survey by the Barna Group.
Percentage-wise, churches with fewer than 100 members lost
more of their income than churches larger than 1,000 adults (16 percent of
income for smaller churches versus 9 percent for large churches). Large
churches, however, were more likely to report being under financial duress.
Researchers speculated that belt tightening may feel more painful for larger
churches, because since they have larger budgets, in actual dollars their cuts
While most pastors and church executives said they have felt
the economic pinch, for most it has not been severe so far. In all, 57 percent
said the economy negatively affected their church over the past year, but only
8 percent called the effect “very negative.”
About a third of churches — 35 percent — said the economy
had not affected them, while about one in 11 churches — 9 percent — defied
trends by describing the last year’s finances as favorable.
Overall, church budgets are down about 7 percent from a year
ago, the study found, but some are feeling the pain more acutely than others.
The typical “down” church reported a budget down by 14 percent, and 9 percent
reported losing more than 20 percent of their income during the last year.
Southern Baptist congregations, churches from charismatic
denominations and black churches were most likely to say their budget was down.
Mainline Protestant churches and those with pastors earning between $40,000 and
$60,000 annually were most likely to be holding ground. Churches with
seminary-trained pastors who have been in the ministry less than 20 years were
most likely to experience budget growth.
Many church leaders said they believe the economic outlook
for churches is stabilizing. About two out of three (62 percent) said their
church’s finances had stayed about the same during the last two months. Of
those who disagreed, 21 percent said things were getting better and 17 percent
said they were getting worse.