Fewer Congregations Consider Themselves Financially Healthy

HARTFORD, CT -- When it comes to their financial condition, a majority of congregations in the United States consider themselves financially healthy. But increasingly more congregations worry about their finances.

A new survey of 884 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States has found that 57 percent of congregations report that their financial situation is good or excellent. This represents a notable drop since 2000 when 66 percent of congregations said their situation was good or excellent.

The financial health of congregations varies considerably by faith community, the new survey found. Less than half (48%) of Old-line Protestant congregations reported that their financial situation was good or excellent, compared to 62 percent of Other Protestant congregations and Catholic and Orthodox parishes.

These figures are from the just released Faith Communities Today 2005 (FACT2005) survey. The survey updates results from a survey taken in 2000.

This new survey information appears in "Insights into Financial Giving," a new publication produced by Faith Communities Today, a coalition of American faith communities working together as the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP).

FACT2000 and FACT2005 are the first two of an ongoing series of national surveys designed to track changes in U.S. congregations and plumb the dynamics of selected congregational practices and challenges. Researchers, consultants and program staff from a broadly ecumenical and interfaith association of thirty-three religious groups and organizations are involved in the partnership, which is managing the surveys.

David A. Roozen, Director of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and Professor of Religion and Society at Hartford Seminary, said that the new series "will provide a quick, engaging, encouraging introduction to the how and why of addressing a particular area of congregational life, such as financial giving. The new publication will be written especially for clergy and lay leaders who suddenly find themselves challenged to think about ways to help their congregation infuse that area with new energy and purposefulness."

"We are committed to forming vital faith communities," Roozen said of the partnership, "and this is one step toward that goal."

CCSP plans to offer "Insights" as a periodic series, connecting the research it conducts with strategies for dealing with important issues facing congregations in the United States today. The first issue offers news, background information, resources and key questions to help congregational leaders study their financial condition and enhance their stewardship.

This is an important topic to congregations. The FACT2000 survey found that the most frequently cited source of conflict in congregations was over money. The FACT2005 survey found that congregational finance was among the top five challenges the respondents named.

"Insights into Financial Giving" offers tips on why financial giving is considered important, to help congregations as they plan their financial campaigns. For example, Money Matters: Personal Giving in American Churches, a recent study of church finances, identifies four basic motivations: Thankfulness and Altruism, Reciprocity with God, Reciprocity with the individual's faith group, and Giving as an extension of the self.

"Insights into Financial Giving" poses 11 "bottom line questions" and asks congregations to consider which are appropriate to them, which take priority and what steps they would take to respond to them. One says, for example, "Remember that people give to people and not to budgets and shortages. The first rule of fundraising is to ask. Do you ask personally and connect the contributions to how they concretely assist people in their spiritual, physical, and other needs?"

Finally, to enable congregations to take advantage of the information it provides, "Insights into Financial Giving" offers a series of next steps.

"Insights into Financial Giving" was written by Dirk J. Hart, a retired pastor and denominational executive in church development.

To obtain a copy of "Insights into Financial Giving," contact Sheryl Wiggins, at Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 860.509.9542 or [email protected] The six-page booklet costs $2.00, including shipping; discounts are available on multiple copies.

Faith Communities Today and the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership are not-for-profit entities of Hartford Seminary and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. FACT/CCSP offers research based resources for congregational development that are useful across faith traditions, believing that communities of faith encounter common issues and can benefit from one another's experiences. It also informs the public about the contributions of congregations to American society and about the changes affecting and emanating from one of America's major sources of voluntary association - local congregations.

Hartford Seminary focuses on interfaith relations, congregational studies and faith in practice. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research has a 30-year record of rigorous, policy-relevant research, anticipation of emerging issues and commitment to the creative dissemination of learning. For more on the Seminary and the Institute, visit the websites or contact David Barrett at 860.509.9519 or [email protected]

David Roozen is Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary. He is available for interviews at: [email protected] or 860.509.9546.