How is the economic downturn affecting churches across America?

Helping the homeless is becoming more difficult

More than 92 percent of the congregations responding to a recent survey said they had been impacted by members’ job loss and loss of income.

Only slightly more than a third said their church’s finances were healthy.

The Villanova School of Business and the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership looked at more than 2,500 oldline Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox congregations in their “Faith Communities Today” survey.

The partnership is a multi-faith group of religious researchers and faith leaders representing over 25 faith groups. They reported their findings on Protestant churches earlier this year, reporting that oldline Protestant congregations spend close to half their budgets on salaries and benefits compared to 31 percent spent on salaries and budgets by Evangelical Protestant congregations – even though the oldline

congregations are, on average, considerably smaller than the Evangelicals.

Most churches reported a greater need for help

In the new study, Catholic parishes across the country were found to be more in line with the Evangelicals with about 39 percent of their budget on salaries and benefits.

Of the church administrators and treasurers surveyed:

39.7 percent said their parish’s financial health was in good or excellent condition – that’s down from 42.9 percent in 2005.
More than half — 56.8 percent – said their church’s income had declined during the recession. To deal with that financial decline:
21.9 percent had reduced their staff
51.8 percent had frozen or reduced staff salaries
29.2 percent had left vacant staff positions go unfilled
52.5 percent said a building program or capital campaign had been impacted
55.2 percent found their funding for missions and charitable work affected

Churches are being asked to do more with less.

The latter was tough to deal with, parishes said, since they are being called upon to do more to help parishioners in need:

62 percent had received emergency requests from community members facing homelessness
85 percent reported increased requests for financial assistance for such things as utilities and medical bills

And a whopping 92.3 percent said they had felt the economic downturn’s impact through increased unemployment among their parishioners.

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