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ECUSA: Barna Report Refutes Claim That Church Giving is Down


News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

Episcopal Church leaders have repeatedly said that giving to the ECUSA is down because of the economy and not because of the consecration of V. Gene Robinson an openly homoerotic bishop to the episcopacy.

The Episcopal Church is being financially hit hard but the people at 815 insist it is the economy not the decisions to promote sodomy and approve Robinson's consecration that is the problem.

According to Episcopal Church treasurer Kurt Barnes charitable and nonprofit organizations have suffered income restrictions this year due to a poorly performing economy, citing declines of up to 20 percent. "Layoffs affect churches too," he pointed out.

Nationally, donations to the Episcopal Church are down about $3 million, or 6 percent, since the confirmation of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, officials said.

Virtuosity reported that this figure was considerably larger based on a business consultant’s analysis of ECUSA’s figures.

But in one diocese after another giving is down to the National Church, attributable they say, to current economic conditions. The continuing loss to the national church will run into the tens of millions of dollars.

But all this, is "not material" says deputy director Jan Nunley. "With 9 million unemployed Americans, 4.7 million who have given up looking for work altogether and 80,000 unemployed who exhaust their benefits every week, I have a question: How many of those folks are Episcopalians?" No one knows of course, but as Episcopalians are generally among the richest groups in the U.S. it is unlikely that that is a contributing factor.

But according to a Barna report released this week, giving to churches rose substantially in 2003.

The California-based organization said that one sure-fire indicator that the national economy is on the path to recovery is found in that Americans donated significantly more money to non-profit organizations in 2003 than they did in 2002.

The new report from The Barna Group shows that giving to churches and to non-profit organizations of all types jumped in the past twelve months, with the average dollars donated to churches hitting the highest level since 2000.

The study also found that the percentage of adults who tithed to a church remained unchanged, but there are sizeable differences in the proportion of people who tithe according to various demographic and theolographic characteristics.

Churches continue to be the dominant recipients of people’s generosity. Close to two out of every three households (63%) donated some money to a church, synagogue or other place of religious worship during 2003. That percentage has remained constant since 2001, but is somewhat lower than the number of church donors identified in 2000 and in 1999 (66%).

The mean amount of money donated to churches and other worship centers in 2003 was $824. That is the highest mean since 2000, and is 14% higher than the giving level measured in 2002. Once again, the current level is somewhat below the donation level, calculated in constant dollars, of 2000.

In total, about three out of every four dollars donated by individuals in 2003 went to churches, synagogues and other religious worship centers. When contributions are examined as a percentage of household income, giving to religious centers represents about 2.2% of gross income.

When the survey examined the behavior of born again adults – those who have made a significant personal commitment to Jesus Christ and who believe they will experience eternal life because of their confession of sins and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their savior – the outcome showed just 7% had tithed to their church.

The Barna Group survey also identified segments of the population that are the most and the least likely to tithe their money to churches and other worship centers.

The segments that were most likely to give at least ten percent to their house of worship included evangelicals (14% did so); adults with an active faith (12% of those who had attended church, prayed and read the Bible during the previous week); African-Americans, born agains, charismatic or Pentecostal Christians, and people from households with a gross income of $60,000 or more (7% among each of those segments).

The segments that were least likely to tithe included Catholics (1%) as well as non-born again individuals, adults under 35, and those from households with a gross income of $40,000 to $59,999 (2% of the people in each of those segments tithed).

George Barna, whose company conducted the tracking survey, commented that church giving will likely remain flat until church leaders address people’s motivations for giving.

“Once a church establishes itself as being trustworthy in people’s minds, it will raise a minimal amount of money from attenders. However, to significantly increase people’s willingness to give generously, a church must speak to the issues that get people excited.

The leader, first and foremost, must present a compelling vision for the ministry – not simply keeping the doors open and the programs running, but a clear and energizing goal that describes how lives will be transformed by the church if people contribute their time, money and skills. Related to that vision,” Barna continued, “the church must then impress potential donors with its ability to minister in ways that are efficient, effective, satisfying urgent needs, providing personal benefits, and incorporating donors into the heart of the effort to bring about serious life-change. Most donors give a modest sum of money out of habit, guilt or hope, but are not moved to share or sacrifice in a bigger way because they do not sense that the church is revolutionizing the community.”

The Barna Group, Ltd., and its research division (The Barna Research Group), is an independent cultural analysis and strategic consulting firm located in Ventura, California. Since 1984, it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.


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