Faith Communities Experience Financial Growth Amidst Societal Upheaval

By Scott Thumma, PhD


Faith communities have faced significant challenges in recent years due to the impact of COVID-19 and various societal changes. However, one area that has not been greatly affected is the financial condition of these churches. According to recent data, the median income of churches in the United States has increased by nearly 42% over the past three years. Even after adjusting for inflation, this represents a remarkable growth of over 25% since 2020. This positive trend in church income aligns with national giving trends, which saw record-setting levels of giving, particularly in the religious sector, in 2020 and 2021. Although religious giving dipped slightly in 2022, the most recent survey suggests an increase in giving to congregations, indicating a positive trajectory. It will be interesting to see if future research on giving confirms this upward trend.

Factors Contributing to Increased Church Income

The significant increase in church income over the past three years can be attributed to various factors. One key finding from the research is the correlation between a church’s emphasis on online and electronic giving and an increase in per capita giving. Congregations that adopted online giving experienced a rise in annual giving per person, with those using it extensively seeing the highest increase of nearly 30%.

The prevalence of online giving has also grown significantly since the start of the pandemic. In 2015, only 31% of churches reported using online giving, with just 8% utilizing it extensively. In contrast, the most recent data shows that 67% of churches now offer online giving options, and nearly half of them use this method extensively. The increased adoption of online giving, along with the resumption of postponed capital campaigns and fundraising events, likely contributed to the overall growth in church income.

Perception of Fiscal Health

Interestingly, the growth in church income did not necessarily translate into a more positive assessment of the congregation’s financial health. Only 22% of churches reported that their fiscal health was better now compared to five years ago, while 27% believed it was worse. Despite the increase in income, churches may still face challenges in managing their financial resources and addressing ongoing financial concerns.

Financial Picture Across Different Faith Traditions

The financial landscape of churches varies across different faith traditions. Catholic and Orthodox churches, which tend to be larger in size, also reported higher annual incomes compared to Conservative and Mainline Protestant churches. However, when looking at per capita giving, Mainline Protestants contribute the most on an individual basis, followed by Conservative Protestants, and then Catholic and Orthodox participants.

Impact of Worship Style on Giving

The manner in which a church offers worship services also has an impact on giving. Churches that exclusively provide online worship, although a small percentage (1.5%), have significantly lower per capita giving compared to those that offer in-person services. On the other hand, churches that only offer in-person worship have a higher median attendance and per capita giving. However, the majority of churches (73%) have adopted a hybrid model of worship, incorporating both in-person and virtual participation. These hybrid congregations tend to have larger worship attendance and higher per capita giving, suggesting that a combination of in-person and online worship is an effective strategy for strengthening the congregation both in terms of attendance and giving.

The Role of Online Giving and Attendance

The data also reveals an interesting relationship between online giving and attendance. Churches that promote online giving experience higher income, with online methods accounting for an average of 40% of monthly giving. Approximately 34% of participants donate online, highlighting the increasing popularity of this method. Interestingly, Catholic and Orthodox churches lead the way in online giving, with 83% of their churches offering this option compared to 70% of Conservative Protestant churches and 59% of Mainline Protestant churches. Moreover, Catholic and Orthodox churches are more likely to use online giving extensively compared to other faith traditions.

Utilization of Church Buildings and Space Sharing

In terms of church assets, the majority of churches own their buildings (63%), while others have their buildings owned by the denomination (24%). A small percentage rent their buildings (9%) or have free use of them (2%). Around 40% of churches reported having more space than they need in their buildings, and many of them generously share this excess space with other organizations. Among the organizations that churches provide space for, non-profits such as Scouts and food pantries were the most common (52%), followed by support groups like 12-step programs (36%), schools and daycares (33%), and other churches (33%). Relatively few churches (16%) share their space with governmental agencies, and even fewer (8%) provide space for-profit groups.

Mainline Protestant churches are the most active in sharing their space, with 59% doing so compared to 36% of Conservative Protestant churches and 21% of Catholic and Orthodox congregations. Mainline churches are also more likely to have excess space compared to other faith traditions.

Looking Towards the Future

Overall, the latest research indicates positive financial growth for faith communities. However, it is important to note that the dynamics of congregations have not yet settled into a new normal. Churches that are willing to adapt and change are more likely to envision a positive future. The mindset of church leadership plays a crucial role in post-pandemic adaptation and the financial well-being of congregations.

While it remains to be seen whether these churches will continue to experience financial growth, the current outlook appears promising. The increase in church income, particularly through the adoption of online giving, provides a hopeful sign for the future financial stability of faith communities.

Scott Thumma, PhD is the Principal Investigator of Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations (EPIC). He is a Professor of Sociology of Religion at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace and the Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Dr. Thumma has extensive experience in congregational studies and national religion research efforts, having published numerous books and research reports throughout his career.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How has the financial condition of faith communities changed over the past three years?
  2. What factors contribute to the increase in church income?
  3. How do churches perceive their fiscal health in relation to their income growth?
  4. How does the financial picture vary across different faith traditions?
  5. What impact does the style of worship have on giving?
  6. How does online giving relate to attendance and overall church income?
  7. How do churches utilize their buildings and share space with other organizations?
  8. What can we learn from the data about the future financial stability of faith communities?