By Aaron Earls
LifeWay News Office
Around two in five pastors of Protestant churches in the United States (41 percent) say the economy is having no impact on their church, according to a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
The rest are nearly split on whether the effect is positive (30 percent) or negative (26 percent).
“Fundamentally, the U.S. economy is in a similar place that it was a year ago,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Yet pastors are less optimistic about this outside influence on their church than they were in 2018.”
While the 30 percent of pastors who believe the economy is having a positive impact is more than triple what it was in the first part of this decade, it’s down sharply from 45 percent who felt the same way in 2018.
The percentage of pastors who feel a negative impact from the economy increased for the first time since 2010.
Offerings up or stable
Whatever the economic climate is outside the church, around three in four pastors say their offerings this year have been at or above last year’s.
More than a third (37 percent) say their church’s giving has been up so far this year. The same percentage (37 percent) say it has been the same as 2018.
More than one in five (21 percent) say their offering totals are below last year’s levels.
Those numbers are not as strong as in the 2018 LifeWay Research study when 42 percent of Protestant pastors said their offerings were above 2017, 37 percent said giving was the same, and 15 percent said it was below.
“Last year was the first year in which many Americans had lower withholding levels because of tax reform,” said McConnell. “It’s not surprising that fewer churches are seeing year-over-year growth in 2019 without a similar stimulus to their congregants’ take-home pay.”
Larger churches are more likely to see increased giving from 2018. Half of churches with 250 or more in attendance (50 percent) say offerings are up this year. Forty-two percent of pastors of churches with attendance of 100 to 249 say the same.
A third of congregations with 50 to 99 in attendance (34 percent) have seen an increase in 2019, while only a quarter of churches with fewer than 50 (25 percent) have seen a similar uptick.
About half of all Protestant pastors (51 percent) say their total offerings in 2019 have been about what they budgeted, while 23 percent say they have been higher than budgeted and 23 percent say lower.
More than three in five pastors (64 percent) say they don’t think the 2018 tax reform had any effect on their church’s finances. “There are no signs the 2018 tax reform created continued income growth for churches,” noted McConnell.