U.S. congregations struggle in down economy

The 2008 recession has likely pushed some congregations into stressful situations from which they will have difficulty recovering, even if the economy improves, according to a Faith Communities Today survey done in 2010.

The survey analyzed responses from more than 11,000 congregations from many faith traditions in the United States. The survey, Holy Toll—The Impact of the 2008 Recession on American Congregations, also noted that many congregations began having difficulties in 2001, when the economy declined after 9-11, and the 2008 downturn simply made that worse.

In the past 10 years the number of all congregations experiencing ”some or serious financial difficulty” doubled to 20 percent according to the survey. Author David Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, reported that the most popular ways of dealing with financial decline was for congregations to dip into savings and investments, postpone capital projects, and freeze or reduce salaries. Only 8 to 9 percent of congregations resorted to laying off staff.

Of the Unitarian Universalist congregations surveyed, 22 percent reported having financial difficulties in 2010, while 47 percent said budgets were simply “tight.” Thirty-one percent reported “good or excellent” financial situations.

“The longer-term question is how many congregations got pushed into a really strong deficit situation that tends to create a cycle of decline,” said Roozen. “Congregations can lose their capacity to deal with negative forces and that’s the bigger worry.” He also noted that financial stress can lead to conflict in congregations.

Read a PDF of the complete report on the Faith Communities Today website.