The Barna group released an interesting report on the impact of the recession on church budgets and as expected the picture is bleak.
Across all Protestant churches, budgets are down about 7% from a year ago, though that indicator masks extremes. The typical “down” church has lost, on average, 14% of its budget. Among those churches with contracting income, smaller churches were the hardest hit: churches of 100 or fewer adults who had shrinking revenue had lost 16%; those with 100 to 250 adults were off by 13%; churches with 251-999 adults were down 11%; and churches of 1,000 or more adults were down 9%.
Some churches have been even more significantly hurt by the economy than others: one out of every 11 churches (9%) has lost 20% or more of their budget from 12 months ago. Within that proportion are 2% of churches with incomes off by 35% or more. Among the rare churches that have grown financially, the average annual budget increase was 10%.
That makes perfect sense and is pretty much what you expect to see. Little church gatherings are struggling, in part because they are bleeding attendees and in part because they feel the need for the same sort of bells and whistles and buildings that large churches have. Plus it has been my experience that many people in smaller churches tend to be older and frankly generally less affluent. Not many churches have the star power of Rick Warren who can put out a plea for $900,000 and end up seeing giving of $2,400,000 virtually overnight.
What was ironic and kind of sad was this (emphasis added):
Interestingly, large churches were more likely to report being under financial duress than were small churches, even though their budgets were not down as much percentage-wise. Among churches of 250-plus adult attenders, 71% of these leaders said the economy had affected them negatively, compared to 55% of smaller bodies. Perhaps clergy who work at larger churches feel the tightening more painfully because, in aggregate terms, their larger budgets account for a decrease in a greater number of total dollars.
The types of churches most likely to say their budget was down included charismatic denominations, black churches, Southern Baptists, congregations located in the Northeast, and those whose pastors earn less than $40,000. Among the most likely groups to report a “very negative” impact of the economy were multisite congregations (i.e., churches that meet in more than one location). Overall, 16% of these churches said the economy had been particularly harsh, compared with 6% of other large churches.
Enough is never enough I guess. The bigger your budget, the more it seems like you are always on the edge. When you start getting into gigantic buildings, multiple buildings, staff that numbers in the dozens, huge overhead and huge fixed costs (and probably a huge amount of debt to service), that monkey is never off your back. Anyway, I thought the report was interesting and yet another sign of how money, salaries, overhead, budgets really dominates the life of the church in a very unhealthy manner. Think how freeing it would be to gather where in a cheap building or a home with virtually no fixed overhead costs. Then when the economy goes south you can worry about sharing what you have with those in need instead of worrying about the bank calling your mortgage or having to layoff staff.