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Economy Hits Churches at Unprecedented Rate

Nearly 40% of churches reported declines in giving in 2009, according to the annual "State of the Plate" research, with megachurches and West Coast churches suffering most.

Contact: Matt Branaugh, Christianity Today, 630-260-6200, mbranaugh@christianitytoday.com; Brian Kluth, Maximum Generosity, 719-930-4000, bk@kluth.org 

CAROL STREAM, Ill., March 23 /Christian Newswire/ -- Nearly 40% of churches across the country experienced a decline in church giving and offerings in 2009, representing two consecutive years of significant decreases, according to the 2nd annual "State of the Plate" research by Maximum Generosity and Christianity Today International.

"Churches today are in unchartered waters financially," says Brian Kluth, founder of Maximum Generosity. "After the October 2008 stock market drop, 29% of churches experienced a decline in giving and this past year the number has climbed up to 38% of churches. Multiple research projects last year documented the sharp decline in church giving and our research this year shows things have only gotten worse for a growing number of churches."

Part of the reason for 2009's continued decline: An unexpected number of churches (30%) reported lower-than-expected collections for December, a month that traditionally helps many churches meet their budgets.

Even Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, with about 20,000 people attending weekly worship services, ran behind its multimillion-dollar budget before Warren sent out a last-minute email appeal encouraging year-end gifts. Saddleback Church received more than $2.4 million, allowing the megachurch to end the year in the black. But other churches weren't as fortunate.

Megachurches (47%) and West Coast churches (55%) were hit hardest in 2009 as they fell behind in their giving from the previous year, according to the latest survey.

On a positive note, the "State of the Plate" research also showed that a growing number of churches (31%) increased their benevolence giving to help people in their church and community facing critical financial needs. Giving to missions also increased in a significant number (30%) of churches.

Many churches also actively taught Biblical financial and generosity principles in 2009 through sermons (66%), financial classes and seminars (48%), and volunteer financial counselors/coaches (26%) to help their church families weather the poor economy.

Kluth launched the "State of the Plate" research in 2008. This year, Christianity Today International's Church Finance Today and Leadership publications partnered with Kluth to launch the 2nd annual "State of the Plate" research, which surveyed more than 1,000 church leaders. The research aims to capture true benchmarks, statistics, and trend lines that can help church leaders know how to understand changing economic realities that are different from the past, and help church leaders find proven solutions as they face growing financial challenges.

For an Executive Summary with media charts/graphs and access to the complete research data, go to: www.STATEofthePLATE.info.