Financial Optimism in the Church

Sam Rainer

October 1, 2008

With the current financial chaos distressing our markets, I was surprised when the Leadership Network released this survey on financial perspectives in the church. The survey of large churches took place this summer, before the most recent madness surrounding a $700 billion government bailout of the financial services sector. Regardless, I’m pleasantly surprised with the optimism. This snippet from the report:

The 105 large churches surveyed by Leadership Network this summer said they were “minimally” or “not at all” affected (56%) by the downturn in the economy, while 41% responded “somewhat negatively” and 3% “very negatively” on the question.

While the outlook is not as hopeful as in previous surveys conducted, a large measure of financial optimism remains:

In terms of expected income this year, 74% of surveyed churches expect that income will increase in 2009, while 66% expect that their church will probably meet its budget this year and 28% said they probably would not meet budget. Two years ago, the latter group constituted only 4% who would not meet budget.

While 74% of surveyed churches expect their income will increase next year, that’s down from 96% two years ago. Nevertheless, 13% expect income to remain the same and only 12% predict a decrease.

This survey was conducted among larger churches. Would the results be any different among small and mid-size churches? My guess is that mid-size churches are hit the hardest in times of financial crises. But what do you think about the financial effects on churches in harder economic times?

12 comments on “Financial Optimism in the Church”

  1. Ben Stroup says:


    In all my research for the blog I maintain on Church Giving and Stewardship, I’ve always been surprised to note the fact that church giving has historically not been negatively affected in times of economic crisis.

    Blessings, Ben.

  2. kdb1411 says:

    With your strong background in finance, research, and ministry, you could be become the leading voice of church finances and stewardship issues.I wish you could have the platform of being an employee of LifeWay. I asked your dad about that, and he said he couldn’t do it because of nepotism. Oh well. LifeWay’s loss. Looks like you are blazing your own trail.

  3. Sam Rainer says:

    kdb – LifeWay’s a wonderful place, but my heart is in the local church. But thanks for the compliment! Tell Dad I said hello.

  4. Mark Brooks says:


    Good words. As I work with pastors and church leaders the thing that I keep pointing them to is the past history of how the church has responded in similar times. In short we have always survived!

    I also did a recent extensive data search on giving declines. I had a banker tell me he had “heard” that giving was off by 25%. I told him that was a dangerous unfounded “urban legend.” By my own research and by talking to others in the stewardship field I think giving will be more likely in the 10% to 15% decline area. Smaller churches than those in the study you allude to will see about this same number.

    What was interesting also was the BP release on the SBC’s end of year report to CP giving. While not a totally accurate way of gauging over all church giving nor even overall SBC church giving it is instructive. If giving was off by the 25% my banker friend mentioned then CP gifts would have been significantly affected.

    For guys like us you have to love the Internet to find stuff like this fast!

    Thanks for your work I am glad I found it.

    Mark Brooks

  5. Mike says:

    I was recently discussing this very subject with some leaders at the Multi-Site Exposed Conference in South Carolina. One scenario that was already creating impact was when a successfull mid-large congregation launched a multi-site in what had been a rapidly growing family community that became one of the top 10 foreclosure zones in the country. The result was undeterred evangelism and site growth, but a drastically reduced tithe base accrual. For a site model that typically is solvent within 1 year, the sponsoring congregation was having to accept a likely 3-4 year maturation timeline instead. When considerable % of families are impacted by foreclosures or bankruptcy, particularly for new-to-faith believers, there will certainly be noteworthy impacts.

    This still supports the general theme that established churches will be less adversely threatened by the present outlook. Of course, things have yet to plateau or improve econimically, so only God knows what we’ll be saying 6 months from now!

  6. Sam Rainer says:

    Mike and Mark – great points. From what I am hearing anecdotally (and within our own church), churches are maintaining a cautious yet optimistic spirit about budget planning for 2009. Of course, the next 6-12 months will be a rocky period in our national financial system. If the sky falls (and I don’t think it will), then it’ll just force the church to get more creative, which may not be a bad thing.

  7. Mark Brooks says:


    I think Karen Butler the editor of Church Solutions just took a swipe at you! I get their email and today’s had a headline that said, “Church Giving is Down.” She writes:

    “Financial experts keep saying church giving is peachy, but I’m going on record to dispute it. Every church leader I’ve talked with reports a noticeable decrease in tithes and offerings in the last nine months to a year. Whether the decline is a result of the economy or not, who cares? Down is down, whether it corresponds with the summer, attendance patterns, the financial state of the nation, or nothing readily identifiable.

    The average decrease, as confirmed by my network of NACBA friends, seems to be in the 7 percent to 12 percent range – which can be significant if you’re a small church. In fact, here in Phoenix, many small-church pastors who used to be supported through their congregations are seeking full-time employment outside the church. Other churches are looking nervously to that last offering of the month, just hoping to get all the bills paid.

    I’m sure there are churches that are thriving – or at least making ends meet. I just think it’s time to better tell the stories of those that aren’t. And yes, that applies to Church Solutions, too!”

    She then lists your blog as a link. Since you are the only one with a positive header I think she means you. Frankly I did not get that from your post nor should she have. What I find is that churches with a good stewardship foundation, a compelling vision who are accomplishing something for the Kingdom are seeing donations continue strong.

    Just thought you would like to know.

  8. mike hammond says:

    Sam I have a large client of church/schools and I am finding that they are reluctant and very cautious to move ahead with purchasing .
    While they have the need and want the product I supply they are reluctant to commit
    I certainly do not see this as a mistake on there part
    I am cutting back on everything non essential to operate my business
    I find myself offering leasing and finance options I never would have thought would be attractive to my client base before
    I feel this will changa as the economy adjusts and the election of our new president is over
    We all need to take it slow
    I hope the recovery will come and I am sure it will
    the question is when
    Regards Mike

  9. Frank says:

    Our giving at St. Joan is down 7%, a significant amount. We are still going full steam ahead though, with faith and a strong stewardship plan (the Wichita model). Our hope is that we can recover from this downturn with minimal damage/layoffs.

  10. Sam Rainer says:

    Mark – thanks for pointing out a different perspective. Oddly enough, Church Solutions had a news feed on their front page today, “Despite Foreclosure Crises, Christians Still Tithing” The article states, “Nonprofit organizations specializing in mortgage counseling are reporting that the one thing most Christians will not compromise on when adjusting expenses is the monthly tithe to their churches.”

    Churches will all have their own unique story and situation (Frank, I’m sorry to hear of your decline in giving, but I applaud your optimism!). But from a macro perspective, I think the church will weather this financial storm well.

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