According to a recent Lifeway Research survey, more than half of American Protestant pastors say that the economic situation has an impact on the finances of their congregation. A first since 2016. In question, not necessarily the donations but above all the costs.
Is the current economic crisis likely to deeply affect the treasury of the churches? The subprime crisis in 2007 and 2008 had heavily indebted American households, in particular with a loss of 9 million jobs in 2008 and 2009, indirectly affecting congregations.
Due to strong economic growth between 2017 and the onset of the Covid-19 epidemic in the United States, 2018 and 2019 were the only years since 2009 where most pastors saw a positive impact from the economy on the finances of their congregations. Since then, the worry has returned.
A Lifeway Research study published on October 11 finds that 52% of Protestant pastors believe that the impact of the crisis on their churches is negative. A figure significantly higher than that of 2021 where only 37% of them had made the same observation.
The survey conducted from September 6 to 30 among 1 pastors also reveals that 000% of them say that economic circumstances have no impact on their budgets while 40% believe that they do. positively affect. It is the first time since 7 that less than 2012% of Protestant ministers give this positive assessment.
Costs more involved than cash inflows
However, the figures must be contextualized, because it is more the expenses than the income that worries the majority of pastors. “The year-over-year decline in giving affects nearly a quarter of churches, but the percentage is similar to the decade average,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.
Thus, 42% of pastors note that donations have not changed compared to 2021, while 32% speak of an increase. For their part, 23% point to a decrease in donations.
On the other hand, inflation, the increase in interest rates and the expected end of the federal government's support for households through the CARES Act have consequences on treasuries. During the crisis, the remuneration of the employees of the congregations had been able to be taken care of by the Wage Protection Program.
This has sometimes led to controversial situations such as in California where the Calvary Chapel was able to collect donations from the faithful while benefiting from this federal program up to $340. The congregation had refused to close despite local authorities' injunctions, later deemed unconstitutional, and had not limited the number of people allowed to participate in its services on site.
Unequal situations according to the churches
Some churches are immensely wealthy and headed by pastors living in opulence without even paying taxes, as in Texas where the Houston Chronicle exhibited in December 2021 a presbytery with 10 bedrooms and 10 and a half bathrooms benefiting from a tax exemption. There are 2 in the state's most populous counties, worth $683 billion, according to the Chronicle.
Pastors of large congregations are thus abusing the provisions of a law which provides tax relief on the residences of clergy members in order to offset the cost of living for pastors receiving low salaries. However, many small communities are facing economic difficulties that the crisis is only aggravating.
Pastors from congregations with less than 50 attendees make up 61% of those surveyed. They are more likely than those with more than 100 devotees to say their budget is being met, but at the same time 31% say offerings have decreased. In contrast, 63% of pastors in churches with 250 or more people see an increase in giving compared to 2021.
The study, which contains a margin of error of 3,2%, also detects disparities between black and white communities. 36% of African-American pastors say giving has dropped, while only 22% of white pastors do.