U.S. evangelicals weather economy’s woes for now
DALLAS – There is a lot of talk of a looming recession in the United States but evangelical churches — which some would regard as a “growth area” of the economy in recent years — seem to be weathering the storm.
According to the National Association of Evangelicals — a loose-knit group that reporesents about 30 million of America’s 60 million evangelicals — churches under its umbrella brought in more money in 2007 than they did in 2006.
“Responses to the monthly Evangelical Leaders Survey during the first week of January 2008 reported that more than 60 percent of evangelical ministries received more money in 2007 than in previous years. Twenty-seven percent of organizations were about the same as the previous year. Twelve received less income,” the NAE said.
The NAE’s “Leaders Survey” is a different question posed each month to 100 members of the NAE board of directors and includes heads of evangelical denominations with about 45,000 local churches.
“Among the majority reporting increased income the most typical amount was five percent over the previous year although some were as much as 50 percent under special circumstances. Most did not indicate the size of the increase but just that finances were strong and growing,” the NAE said.
But one theme it identified was a growing reliance on large tithes from key donors. It said some ministries were getting the same funds but often from fewer donors.
Does this point to a slow-down in the growth of the flock after years of swelling numbers, often at the expense of mainline denominations? Or does it suggest that the less affluent members have less money to give and the more fortunate are stepping up to the plate?
Both questions will be interesting to probe in the year ahead. Evangelicals thrive on growth — they place much emphasis on the conversion experience and believe it is their duty to spread the Gospel — and like all churches they also depend on the goodwill of their members for financial support.