The ecumenical NCC reported the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses as the only other church groups to show membership increases, even though most Pentecostals, and many mainline churches and orthodox Christians, would consider those two groups separate religions.
A slight membership decline among Catholic and Southern Baptist churches, according to the yearbook, raised eyebrows because both denominations have typically grown over the years. "Now they join virtually every mainline church in reporting a membership decline," stated an NCC release.
In the bigger picture, the yearbook reported the small less-than-1-percent drop in membership in each denomination was not "earth-shattering" because there are still more than 67 million Roman Catholics in the U.S. and 16 million Southern Baptists.
Churches listed in the NCC yearbook as experiencing the highest rate of membership loss are the United Church of Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.The Rev. Eileen W. Lindner, the yearbook's editor, said there are no clear-cut theological or sociological reasons for church growth or decline. "Many churches are feeling the impact of the lifestyles of younger generations of churchgoers-the GenXers or Millenials in their 20s and 30s who attend and support local congregations but resist joining them. A slowing of the rate of growth of some churches and the decline of membership of others ought to be the focus of continued research and thoughtful inquiry." [AP, 2/25/09; christianpost.com, 2/25/09]
"Many of the parachurch ministries we surveyed reported small donations [those between $10 to $100] were relatively unaffected, and in some cases, donations in this category increased," said Dan Busby, acting president of ECFA. "In fact, some of our members had the strongest fourth quarter they've had in years and ended the year debt-free."
The organization said some member ministries attributed the survey results to increased prayer and greater interest in supporting organizations that help the poor and disadvantaged. More than half of member organizations said they increased one-on-one contact with key donors to buffer fundraising during the economic downturn. More than 30 percent said they changed their message to donors about how the ministry was responding to a changing economy.
Despite the good news, half of those surveyed reported that their investments had lost 15 percent to 30 percent of their value. And many ministry leaders are concerned about how the recession will affect 2009 giving. Most ministries are reducing costs, 41 percent have frozen or delayed salary increases, and 38 percent have frozen or reduced hiring.Conference travel and capital projects have largely been reduced or delayed. Roughly 20 percent are sharing resources with other organizations and businesses. "Most ECFA member ministries expect 2009 to be more challenging, primarily because major donors who made gifts in 2008 have expressed they may not be able to renew their financial commitments because of the economy," Busby said. "But for leadership and staff members, this is ministry, not a job. Despite challenges, most remain committed to making positive operational and structural decisions, including developing contingency plans, which will enable them to continue to carry out God's purpose despite limited resources." [charismamag.com, 2/24/09]
Two weeks ago St. Luke's Church in Whitestone, Queens, began publishing a breakdown of members' tithes and offerings in the weekly bulletin. Though the listing doesn't name any specific names,
The National Association of Church Business Administration (NACBA) recently tackled the issue with a national survey specifically targeting churches' financial health. Gleaning from the answers of more than 800 administrative pastors, the survey found that churches are doing relatively well in comparison to other sectors of society-though there are still many reasons for concern.