Despite declines in individual religious affiliation and attendance, more congregations saw increases in participation and giving than experienced declines between 2014 and 2017, a report from the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the IUPUI Lilly Family School of Philanthropy finds.
Funded by the Lilly Endowment and based on survey data from more than twelve hundred congregations, the National Study of Congregations' Economic Practices (36 pages, PDF) found that 39 percent of congregations in the sample saw an increase in the number of adults regularly attending services while 38 percent saw a decline, and that 48 percent reported an increase in total revenue while 35 percent reported a drop. In terms of religious tradition, Catholic congregations were more likely to report declines than increases both in participation (53 percent vs. 24 percent) and in revenue (56 percent vs. 31 percent), while mainline Protestant churches and other religious groups were more likely to report a decline in participation but also more likely to have seen revenue growth. African-American Protestant and evangelical Protestant congregations were more likely to report increases than decreases in both participation and revenue.
In terms of size, the report found that 58 percent of large congregations (more than a hundred regular congregants) and 40 percent of smaller ones reported revenue growth, while 16 percent of large congregations and 44 percent of smaller ones reported a drop in revenue. Congregations with annual budgets of between $250,000 and $499,000 were most likely to see revenue growth (45 percent), while those with budgets under $100,000 were most likely to see an increase in participation. Congregations established in the past two decades and those on the West Coast also were more likely to report growth in participation, while those in the Northeast were most likely to see a decline (58 percent).
The study also found that, on average, U.S. congregations spend 49 percent of their annual budget on staff and 23 percent on facilities and that individual congregations' budgets range from a few thousand dollars to several million dollars. In addition, 20 percent of congregations are led by part-time or bi-vocational clergy, including 44 percent of African-American Protestant congregations, compared with 18 percent among all other religious traditions.
"There is a widespread perception that when individuals move away from religious affiliation that congregations across the board experience a drop in participation and revenue. While many congregations are experiencing declines, the overall picture is far more complex than conventional wisdom suggests," said David P. King, Karen Lake Buttrey Director of the Lake Institute. "Our study sheds new light on the rest of the story with a detailed look at congregations, their funding and how they manage their resources."