• 66°

State of the plate

The state of the plate? Not that great.

That’s the message from nationwide research on church giving by Maximum Generosity and Christianity Today International. In 2009, 38 percent of churches across the country experienced a decline in giving and offerings — the second year in a row to see a significant decrease.

“Churches today are in uncharted waters financially,” said Brian Kluth, founder of Maximum Generosity, in a press release announcing the study’s findings. “After the October 2008 stockmarket drop, 29 percent of churches experienced a decline in giving, and this past year the number has climbed up to 38 percent of churches.”

Part of the reason for 2009’s decline was that 30 percent of churches reported lower-than-expected collections for December, a month that traditionally helps many churches meet their budgets.

The research was conducted in more than 1,000 churches of all denominations, sizes and locations. Megachurches and West Coast churches were hit hardest in 2009, according to the survey.

In Suffolk, one local pastor said he has seen a similar trend, but another said giving is growing in his church.

“We have [seen a decline],” said Dr. David Blevins, pastor at Liberty Baptist Church. “We’ve had people impacted by layoffs, out of work, looking for jobs.”

Blevins said his church has made budget cuts where possible, and as a result was able to pay all its bills on time and still have money left over.

“With the Lord’s blessings, we were able to pay every single one of our bills on time for 2009,” Blevins said. “We’ve just tried to be good stewards of what God has given us.”

Blevins is confident Liberty Baptist will weather the storm with the Lord’s help.

“We have to make wise use of what we have, make cuts where we can, and just pray the economy will turn around.”

Pastor Stewart McCarter, of Southside Baptist Church, said giving in his church has been growing, coinciding with a boom in attendance and plans for an addition to the building.

“We’re thankful that it seems to be that way for us,” McCarter said. “I know that we’re making advances.”

The first two months of 2010 saw lower giving amounts, McCarter said, but that is typical in most years as people recover from the holiday season.

“We were behind, but we have picked up since then,” McCarter said. “We’ve seen it increase and do better since then.”

McCarter attributes the blessings his church has seen to a purposeful attitude.

“We just say that God’s resources are not dependent on man’s economy,” McCarter said. “We try to be generous and giving and not change our attitude that way.”

Despite the national study’s dismal findings on giving, the State of the Plate research also showed that many churches increased their benevolence giving to help church and community members facing critical financial needs. The missions budget also increased in 30 percent of churches.

The economy also hit churches in a positive way, as more churches actively taught Biblical financial and generosity principles through sermons, financial classes and seminars, and enlisted volunteer financial counselors to help church families weather the poor economy.

“In our new economic culture, churches must learn to intentionally teach Biblical financial and generosity principles to help serve the families in their congregations and to reverse the decline in giving,” Kluth said.

For more information on the study, visit www.StateOfThePlate.info.