Chronicle of Philanthropy

Title: National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practice

Organization: Lake Institute on Faith & Giving

Summary: In a survey of religious congregations, 48 percent increased their revenue from 2014 to 2017, despite 38 percent reporting that attendance had shrunk, according to a new study by the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices surveyed a nationally representative group of more than 1,200 congregations about how they accept donations and manage their finances — topics that are often nebulous, as the study found just 81 percent of congregations distribute an annual financial report with their members.. Giving to religion — primarily to congregations — used to account for nearly half of donations. That number has steadily declined and now represents nearly 30 percent of all charitable giving.

Thirty-nine percent of congregations reported that they grew from 2014 to 2017. “While membership and attendance patterns are changing in American congregations, declines in participation are not as of yet leading to a uniform negative impact on congregational finances,” the study authors wrote.

The study found 81 percent of congregations’ revenue comes from individual donations. Congregations overwhelmingly rely on tithing to keep their doors open, with 92 percent of congregations passing an offering plate during a service.


To a very small degree, congregations reported adding to revenue from individual donors through rental fees, fundraising events, and endowments. Mainline Protestant congregations were the most likely to have an endowment — at 59 percent — but only 34 percent of all congregations reported having such a revenue stream.

The study also found that just 9 percent of congregations teach about giving during weekly services. Of those that do, 90 percent said they’d seen their revenue grow over the last three years.

“Congregations should not assume that most religious participants will naturally know their faith tradition’s teachings on giving or feel compelled to support the congregation without an explicit articulation of the mission,” the authors wrote.

Among the other findings:

  • Congregations were most likely to only teach on giving on a quarterly basis, with 36 percent reporting doing so.
  • 21 percent of congregations accept donations through mobile giving apps.
  • West Coast congregations, younger congregations formed in the past two decades, and larger congregations are growing at the highest rates.
  • Evangelical congregations reported the least attrition of all congregations surveyed. Catholic congregations face the greatest challenges, with over half of all parishes declining in size and revenue over the past three years.
  • 57 percent of congregations explicitly collect funds for other social-service groups, such as Catholic Charities, Buddhist Global Relief, or Jewish Family Services.

Emily Haynes has covered fundraising on social media, Giving USA’s annual report on giving trends, and how the ALS Association found success with the Ice Bucket Challenge. She recently wrote about wealthy families’ failure to talk with their children about philanthropy. Email Emily or follow her on Twitter.