Church Member Giving Declined in 2011, Reaching Lows, New empty tomb Report Finds

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Church member giving declined in 2011, according to the new empty tomb, inc. report, The State of Church Giving through 2011, the 23rd edition in the series released October 11, 2013. The new book proposes that church leaders focus on Christians' potential to impact global needs rather than on techniques to reverse the declines.

Church member giving declined from 2010 to 2011, according to a new report.

The State of Church Giving through 2011, released October 11, 2013, is the 23rd edition in the series from empty tomb, inc.

Although declines were found in both per member giving and in membership as a percent of U.S. population, the report proposes that church leaders focus on Christians' potential to impact global needs rather than on techniques to reverse the declines.

The decline in per member giving to Total Contributions in inflation-adjusted dollars was the fourth decline in a row, 2008 through 2011, the longest in the 1968-2011 period.

Further, for a subset of 11 denominations that have data for 1921-2011, the only other period of prolonged decline in per member giving to Total Contributions in inflation-adjusted dollars was the seven years from 1928 through 1934. Six of those seven years were in the Great Depression.

Per member giving to Total Contributions in current dollars did not decline in the 1968-2011 period until 2008. Per member giving in current dollars then declined in 2009 and again in 2011, when it was lower than in 2008.

Giving as a percent of income declined to Total Contributions, Congregational Finances (internal congregational operations), and to Benevolences, expenses beyond the local congregation for the "larger mission of the church" from 1968 to 2011. Benevolences declined as a percent of income from 0.66% in 1968 to 0.34% in 2011, the lowest point in the 1968-2011 period. See Figure 9.

The declines in giving were evident across the theological spectrum.

Membership in a group of 36 denominations, including some of the fastest growing Protestant communions, the two largest Protestant communions in the U.S., and the Roman Catholic Church, declined from 45% of the U.S. population in 1968, to 35% in 2011, a decline of 22% from the 1968 base. See Figure 14.

The new book also analyzes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011 Consumer Expenditure Survey data for cash contributions of all Americans by age, income level, and region of the U.S. In 2011, Americans reported that 69% of their donations were given to the category of "church, religious organizations," compared to 23% to "charities and other organizations," 3% to "educational institutions," and 5% to "Gifts to non-CU (consumer unit) members of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds."

The new book advises church leaders to consider potential giving to impact global need through already existing church channels rather than focus on negative trends or techniques to reverse the trends.

Using the concept of "triage," The State of Church Giving through 2011 points to two global needs that should receive increased priority among denominations, para-congregational Christian groups, and the networks associated with the large congregations referred to as "megachurches": (1) reducing global child deaths, a goal identified by world leaders both in 1990 and again in 2000, and (2) engaging unengaged unreached people groups.

The new book notes that a group of businessmen have launched the Issachar Initiative both to "give and/or mobilize" $4.6 billion by 2025, and to encourage denominational and mission organizations to focus on "the least-reached." The year 2025, the new study notes, is also the goal year announced by Wycliffe Bible Translators to have started a Bible translation in every language.

Unlike the triage need for evangelism, mobilizing giving for the second triage need of reducing global child deaths is not yet a focus among church leaders in the U.S., according to The State of Church Giving through 2011. However, global leaders in 1990 and again in 2000 announced that reducing global child deaths should be a top priority.

Based on world agency data, the report provides a country-by-country analysis of both where these deaths of children under age 5 occur, and what the causes of death are. Further, experts have estimated that an additional $5 billion a year is needed to speed up reduction of these deaths.

The report notes that if action is not taken, the difference between the 2014 goal and the actual rate of progress in reducing child deaths will mean that 2,297,991 children under the age of five will die in 2014 who would not have died if the gap between goal and reality were closed.

It is in closing this gap that the report challenges church leaders to become active. Strategy elements include:

1. Church leaders can begin a coordinated, parallel emphasis across denominations and other church organizations to increase the priority level of reducing global child deaths among their constituents.

2. Church leaders, both denominational and para-congregational, can launch a parallel yet coordinated distribution effort, through the vast network of church delivery channels already in place, to deliver the additional needed assistance to the children in the 74 countries that account for 96% of these deaths.

3. Each of 187 church denominations can mobilize its own members to donate an additional $50 each per year to that denomination's own efforts to reduce these child deaths. Given the membership in these denominations, 100 million donations of $50 each through these denominations could raise the needed $5 billion to help, in Jesus' name, reduce the number of global child deaths as part of pursuing God's agenda

One or two key leaders could develop the church leader network to mobilize this effort. To "prime the pump" for a discussion of who these leaders might be, the book proposes a "dream team" of national leaders.

The proposal,, as well as a PDF of chapter 8, is available at

A more detailed press release is available at

The full report, The State of Church Giving through 2011: The Kingdom of God, Church Leaders and Institutions, Global Triage Needs, and the Promises of Jesus, is available for purchase in book form through Internet booksellers or directly from empty tomb, inc.

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Sylvia Ronsvalle
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