More than half of churches say donations increased last year, the first year a majority of congregations achieved gains since 2009.
This year’s “State of the Plate” annual survey, which assessed giving to 1,360 churches nationwide, found that 51 percent reported increased donations in 2011, 14 percent said contributions were flat, and 32 percent suffered declines.
The researchers interpreted the findings as evidence that congregations are finally recovering from the Great Recession. At 51 percent, they said, the number of churches reporting increases in this year’s survey was up from 43 percent in the 2010 survey and 36 percent in the 2009 survey.
Meanwhile, the percentage of churches reporting a decline in giving dropped to 32 percent, compared with 39 percent in 2010 and 38 percent in 2009.
“I was pleasantly surprised that we seemed to turn a corner,” said Brian Kluth, founder of Maximum Generosity, a company that produces educational materials about giving for churches and one of three sponsors of the survey.
However, he said, many churches, especially small ones, are still hurting. Only 39 percent of churches with fewer than 100 members reported an increase in giving last year.
Among other findings:
* The most common reasons churches had an increase last year were a rise in attendance (50 percent) and efforts to teach churchgoers about biblical principles related to financial health and giving (42 percent).
* Churches with increased donations used the extra money to give raises to pastors and other staff members (40.3 percent), pay for missionary work (36.5 percent), build or renovate their facilities (35.3 percent), and provide emergency financial aid to people in need (31.1 percent).
* Churches have been increasing online options for giving and other nontraditional ways to give over the past four years. For example, 42 percent of churches in the survey now offer automatic withdrawals from members’ bank accounts, and 41 percent accept online gifts. Nearly a third process donations from members’ brokerage accounts, while 6.8 percent can now accept gifts made on a mobile phone.
The annual survey of church giving is a joint effort by Maximum Generosity, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an accreditation agency for religious organizations, and Christianity Today, a religious publisher.
Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.