Report by Peter Menkin
The Presbyterian Church Outlook publication arm, edited by John Haberer, is producing a series of Webinars and one played on the internet October 22, 2013 on philanthropy was of particular interest to this Religion Writer. This is a study done by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Like many offered through Outlook by the Presbyterian Church, says John Haberer, this one, characteristically, had fewer than 50 participants; it was a powerful and even elite course in a single subject of particular interest to its special group of internet viewers. The cost under $50; the webinar covered Philanthropy and the Church and included the long report about a Congregational Impact Study regarding inflation and the economy about churches in the United States. This study of national character (by Lake Institute on Faith and Giving), and excellent reputation encompassed more than 3000 Protestant churches, mostly. One report provided by the producers and the Indiana University Lilly people can be found here: : http://philanthropy.iupui.edu/congregational-economic-impact-study .
The webinar was worth the price of admission; it was a smooth running affair led by and organized by William Enright, PhD. This Religion Writer spoke with him prior to the internet broadcast. This from my notes:
We survey over 3100 congregations: It [the 3100 congregations] represent the spectrums. We found congregations are recovering from the recession in 2007, and most are recovering and it is slow. Most are failing to keep pace with inflation. We figure 62% are not keeping pace. If you say you are giving the same in 2011, you are not keeping pace.
We gathered anecdotal data. Many congregations with shrinking dollars cut internal programs, and maintenance, but did not cut mission and outreach to serving others.
We use the data base from four organizations: Alban institute, weighted towards mainline Protestantism, with Jewish representation, Christianity Today, weighted towards evangelical spectrum, and national church business administrators, slightly weighted towards mainline with southern Baptist and evangelical.
Lake is part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. This is the second wave, study done five years ago of congregational giving. In our work at the Lake Institute we do the intersection of religion and philanthropy, or faith and giving. We provide practical training for religious organizations. Our seminal seminar which we have done for 3000 congregations across the United States is called creating congregational generosity. We also have created have a certificated in religious fundraising called, Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF). We do the program in conjunction with seven to eight theological institutions in the United States: St. Meirand Seminary (Catholic); also next year through Fuller on the West Coast, and through Louisville, and through Duke, and through McCormick in South Carolina, Shaw University.
That is for clergy, lay business administrators, and for diocesan stewardship directors, or development officers in faith based institutions. Cost is about $1500 per person, and takes a project. The price will vary.
One of the findings we discovered from the survey is that when the pastor is involved in the finances and understands the giving patterns of the congregation, the congregation does better than those congregations where the pastor is not involved. That is a very important part. The average congregation in our study is around 400 members. On the other hand, the median is going to be lower.”
Essentially, using an effective, organized address of an hour’s length with a half hour of questions afterward, William Enright worked from slides under the theme The Recession and Its Implication for Congregational Life in the United States (this the recession of 2007). 37% of the congregations in the study were established between 1801 and 1900 and just under half were suburban. Those with younger attendees did better than others. Though just better than a quarter of congregations had improved in their giving since the recession, a third had worsened.
When it came to keeping pace with inflation, a little more than half did not keep pace with the rate of inflation. Just isn’t happening, apparently.
In more than a quarter of churches, attendance is declining, whereas better than a third to almost 40% is staying the same. By the way the media reports Protestant church decline, this increase the study reports is almost good news. This writer wondered what had philanthropy to do with attendance, but on reflection there is a truth to this figure for in the greater sense churches play a major role in philanthropy. Though in the United States churches are not the major giver to aid people, for that is the United Way (number one USA) and they in step in size of giving with the Salvation Army which ranks at the top which for some reason is not counted as a church for the reasons the survey holds–church attendance is part of this study.
We are hitting the high points in this study, and the material is somewhat confidential in the report given in the webinar, but because this Religion Writer was invited to cover the webinar readers get an idea of some highlights. Also, this is not a full report on the entire event, suffice it to say.
Interestingly, pledges in general have either stayed the same or even by the number 39% increased according to the study. So the slack is being picked up by existing members, one could extrapolate, or even guess. Asking questions of William Enright was difficult as his availability was limited, and this kind of question was not in his area of expertise.
Let us speculate a moment during this report: Who would know the answer to where greater giving is coming from, specifically. Is it the existing member pledges, really, for so many congregations? Who else could it be? They must be giving more. Are they? But an intelligent guess is fair. In this case, it turns the mystery to the reader, or this writer’s guess seems to make sense. That’s the interesting thing with a study like this; one can guess and use ones imagination with the blanks. Each of the participants was in his or her way a kind of expert, so they were probably able to read into the study very much from their own standpoint and locale or region.
In speaking with editor John Haberer this writer suggested more conversation with the audience, but found that was not technically feasible at this time. He agreed with this Religion Writer, such activity of give and take would be helpful if not very productive.
Interestingly 2012 saw fundraising receipts rise by half. So the trend is upward in congregations, and again one could hope philanthropy is returning to stronger levels than the past. But this article is casting a positive look at the report.
The study also reports that in 2012 church budgets were up by half. This writer also recalls the important fact that throughout the years, even when giving was way down during the worst years of giving churches maintained their giving to help the needy. This is what in some congregations is called outreach. So the levels of help to the needy never diminished during this entire time, even when it meant cutting staff and services by congregations of Protestant persuasion in the United States that were part of this 3100 church survey by Lake Institute, part of the University.
Here is a kind of odd fact: half the congregations in the study had four staff members. That may seem like few to some, but when one considers that the average congregation is 400 members and a half million dollar budget annually is a large one for a congregation, this is a church being run by a dedicated and small number of staff members. That’s this writer’s opinion. But those in the trenches and on the front line know that a church is a place where work gets done and that volunteers make a major difference. One hardly need say such things. The point unsaid is really that smaller churches are working with fewer people, even down to one staff member. I say this in print to get it on the record. The high figure, if memory is correct, for a smaller congregation budget can be less than $150,000 in the budget. In fact 22% of the congregations in the study had budgets less than that figure.
There is no record in the report of where the minority participants play in this obligation of giving. They would be Jewish community members among other similar groups. If there was a how-to or recognizable matter of advice to report coming from the webinar it was theirs that said create a culture of generosity.
These were two quotations key to the statement on philanthropy by the organizers of the webinar and they make sense to the kind of people who both participate as audience and who are givers:
“The Christian life cannot have obligation as it’s
deepest root. The life of faith is entirely responsive,
springing from gratitude rather than duty.”
“When we understand the grace we’ve received, we
are able to turn outward in gratitude and
Christine D. Pohl
They help to set an attitude of moderation in the mind of the giver and the mind of the reader of the slideshow of this study. No doubt the life of faith is one of gratitude; it appears through the facts of the study that the congregational life of members continued in their pursuit of giving to aid the needy and continue the faith life of their churches. They were successful in this matter of aiding the needy throughtout this period of strife. It is important to add this editorial statement to this report. For it is an attitudinal summary to the facts of the study.