Churches Make Adjustments as Donations Fall

Faced with substantial declines in fourth-quarter giving by parishioners, many churches and faith-based organizations have been forced to curb their spending and outreach programs, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

A new study from the Barna Group, a consultancy in Ventura, California, found that during the past three months, one out of every five households had cut its faith-based giving. As a result, churches could see donations decline by as much as $5 billion and revenue by as much as 6 percent during the fourth quarter of the year. "The enemy of charitable giving is insecurity," said Paul G. Schervish, professor of sociology and director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. "Right now, we can't even project the end of the recession, like we did other recessions."

The number of religious groups in trouble is growing. Focus on the Family, a faith-based organization in Colorado with a $5 million deficit, laid off more than two hundred workers in November, while Seventh Day Adventist Church leaders have instituted a wage freeze and a 20 percent reduction in travel. Elsewhere, falling donations recently forced the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh to hold a "special collection" for Catholic Charities in response to a 40 percent increase in calls to the agency's emergency assistance program.

"To say that I'm not concerned would be lying," said the Rev. Donald Green, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, which represents twenty-four Christian congregations in ten counties. But the decline in donations could serve as a kind of "wake-up call," Green added. "We have become a consumer society, and life is more than stuff. It's about people and relationships."

"Churches Cutting Back as Donations Dwindle." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 12/28/2008.