US churches find no salvation from bad economy

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 31 2010 10:03 AM | Updated as of Mar 31 2010 06:03 PM

WASHINGTON - Nearly 40 percent of US Christian churches saw a drop in offerings from their flock last year, according to a survey on contributions compiled by the group Christianity Today International.

"For the first time in consecutive years there is a notable decline for a significant number of churches," said Matt Branaugh, one of the report authors.

Branaugh, editor of "Your Church magazine" -- part of the CTI group -- told AFP that one of the most important factors in the drop in donations was increased unemployment.

According to the survey of 1,000 churches across the United States taken for a second consecutive year, 38 percent of churches registered a drop in donations, against 29 percent the previous year.

The "State of the Plate" survey did not report the value of the offerings.

One third of the churches surveyed -- 32 percent against 14 percent the previous year -- cut expenses between one and 20 percent, which included cutting back on trips, conferences, renovations and parish expenses, according to the report.

Nevertheless, 45 percent of the churches surveyed increased their budget allocated to help people in need, Branaugh said.

Especially hard-hit were the "megachurches" surveyed -- churches that have room for between 2,000 and 5,000 faithful for a typical Sunday service.

Forty-seven percent of the "megachurches" saw a drop in contributions, compared to 23 percent in the previous year.

West coast churches -- those located in the states of California, Washington and Oregon -- were also hard-hit, the survey reported.

Representatives of Evangelical, Baptist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, along with a small percentage of Catholic churches, responded to the survey.

According to a 2007 Pew Research survey, nearly 80 percent of US adults identify themselves as being Christian.