News from the past week puts in written form what most of us know either instinctively or from personal experience: The nation’s economic malaise is directly impacting both church budgets and the ministries those budgets support.
Receipts are down in at least 57 percent of churches, according to the National Association of Church Business Administration, as reported by Rob Marus of Associated Baptist Press. The study appears to have been based on information gathered from churches large enough to have business administrators on staff, which may or may not skew the results. Anecdotal evidence I hear suggests that churches that aren’t facing a downturn in contributions are the exception rather than the rule.
When church income goes down, contributions to causes supported by the church go down, too. North Carolina is one of many state conventions to face significant budget shortfalls that have led to much pencil sharpening and revising of budgets. Several Southern Baptist seminaries, facing a loss of investment income, have announced significant reductions in spending.
This past week, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship announced in a press release that income is running at seven percent below 2008 and at just 79 percent of its current budget. As a result, the organization is cutting internal spending by 20 percent, and reducing funding for partner organizations by 30 percent. Partner organizations include more than a dozen Baptist divinity schools and entities like Associated Baptist Press, EthicsDaily.com, and Baptists Today. All of those organizations depend on contributions for part of their budgets, and are now hard-pressed to make up the difference.
Similar stories abound, and I suspect we all are familiar with ministries that are struggling to make ends meet. It is a time for digging deeper, casting wider nets and revisiting priorities. It is a difficult time, but if it drives us to redefine our core missions, also a potentially profitable time.
Successful dieters rejoice when they can tighten their belts and exercise longer. Perhaps some serious revisiting of vision and resources can lead churches and organizations to develop leaner, broader-based and more effective ministries.
We can hope.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.