IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Research will increase understanding of giving to religion and how congregations address economic issues

Lake Institute on Faith & Giving will launch an in-depth, national study about the ways that U.S. religious congregations connect their faith and finances and document how congregations receive, manage and spend their financial resources. The study is made possible by a $1.67 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Most existing research about religious giving explores individual donors’ motivations and giving habits, which provides valuable insights. But there also is a need to learn more about the most common recipients of that giving, religious congregations.

“Religious leaders frequently express concerns about their congregations’ financial solvency, their discomfort in discussing faith and money, and the uncertain, changing funding patterns faith communities are facing,” said David P. King, the Karen Lake Buttrey Director of the Institute. “This new research will examine congregations’ theological, cultural and practical orientations toward money to provide a deeper understanding of how they receive, manage and spend their financial resources.”

The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP) will:

  • Provide a reliable source of data that will equip religious leaders with essential information about the state of congregational finances, help them enhance their stewardship programming, and increase their confidence in addressing financial topics;
  • Raise awareness of the importance of these economic issues for the future of America’s religious life;
  • Advance research and understanding among scholars who study religious philanthropy and congregational finances.

“Many pastors and congregational leaders have noted significant changes in the giving patterns and practices of church members,” said Dr. Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “As a result, church leaders are searching for trusted and accurate information to help them understand and adapt to these changes. Lake Institute is exceptionally well-positioned to undertake this research.”

The study aligns with and builds upon Lake Institute’s role and experience as a resource partner within the National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders. The Institute is part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, a national leader in research on giving.

“This national study will provide important new information about the intersection of faith and philanthropy at a time when declining affiliation with organized religion and declining attendance at religious services are having a significant impact on religious giving,” said Amir Pasic, the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the school. “We thank Lilly Endowment for its generous support of this project, which will enable us to provide insights and practical advice to religious and lay leaders and give scholars an up-to-date empirical foundation for research on stewardship and generosity.”

A challenge confronting religious and philanthropy leaders and scholars is that the data on which they rely to guide financial decision-making are largely either no longer collected or outdated. The few major studies of U.S. congregations conducted recently do not focus in-depth on financial issues. Additionally, in-depth financial studies often rely upon sometimes inconsistent self-reporting or are less generalizable for use by congregations across the country.

The NSCEP will include a nationally representative survey of approximately 5,000 U.S. congregations, interviews with clergy and laity, focus groups with lay people and on-site observations of select congregations.

King, assistant professor of philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, is the study’s project director. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School and a Ph.D. from Emory University with a specific interest in American religious history and practical theology. A leading national speaker and teacher on issues of congregational giving, he was recently named one of America’s Top 25 Most Influential Philanthropy Experts by Philanthropy Media and The Michael Chapman Giving Show.

Brad Fulton, assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, is the co-principal investigator for the study. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Duke University, where he worked with noted religion scholar Mark Chaves and assisted with the National Congregations Study. He recently co-authored A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equality and Ethical Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2015), which was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Book Award in Nonprofit Research from the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA).