September 7, 2010

Church Trends

What is the impact of the economy on the Seventh-day Adventist Church? This is difficult to judge, primarily because we don’t have the rapid information systems that the government and finance industry maintain for the general population. A few facts are available, though, that shed some light on this question.
The May 31, 2010, tithe and offering reports of the North American Division (NAD) show that tithe and mission offerings have increased about 1 percent over this time last year. Any increase has to be counted a blessing in view of the terrible financial conditions all around us.
Adventists in North America tend to fall more into the lower-middle and middle-middle income categories than either those who are more poor or more wealthy. I combined data from two of the most recent surveys of Adventist Church households in the NAD to get an economic profile of our members.
2010 1530 page30About 5 percent are from house-holds with annual incomes of less than $10,000, compared to 7 percent of households in the U.S. and 5 percent of households in Canada; 17 percent are from households with annual incomes of $10,000 to $24,999, as compared to 16 percent of households in the U.S. and 15 percent of households in Canada. These two categories would make up what is identified as “low-income households,” since almost all of them would be at or below the poverty line.
More than 28 percent of Adventist households are in the lower-middle category with incomes of $25,000 to $49,999 per year. This compares to 25 percent of Americans and 27 percent of Canadians.
About 22 percent of Adventist households are in the middle-middle category with incomes of $50,000 to $74,999 per year. About 19 percent of U.S. households and 24 percent of households in Canada fall into this segment.
Some 12.5 percent of Adventist households are in the upper-middle category, with incomes of $75,000 to $99,999 per year. This is the same percentage as in U.S. households and compares to 10.5 percent of households in Canada.
About 16 percent of Adventist households have annual incomes of $100,000 or more. Nearly 21 percent of U.S. households and 19 percent of Canadian households are in the same category. (The comparisons are from the U.S. Census Bureau 2006–2008 American Community Survey and the 2006 Census as reported by Statistics Canada.)
What Does This Mean for Your Church?
In most congregations across North America the tithes and offerings of our people have not declined significantly, as has the income of many businesses and nonprofit organizations. The resources for Christ’s mission are still strong despite the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. This is no time to retreat or cut back in mission-driven investments.
There are many hurting families in both the church and the community. If the Spirit of Christ truly animates your congregation, it will be doing more to meet the needs of these families. Any church can convene a support group for the unemployed on prayer meeting night. As you go around the circle and allow people to share their feelings or introduce a guest speaker on a practical topic, you can announce that church members gathered in another room are praying for those who have come for help.
Some Adventist congregations have increased support for the emergency food pantries and Adventist Community Services centers they sponsor. Others are organizing stress management seminars and helpful workshops for people searching for jobs.
Tools and Resources
There is a chapter on helping the unemployed in Ellen White’s The Ministry of Healing. There is also a practical how-to manual for working with the unemployed in the book Ministries of Compassion, which you can obtain from AdventSource at or (800) 328-0525. It is based on the successful pilot project at the Samaritan Center near Chattanooga, Tennessee. 
Monte Sahlin is director of Research and Special Projects for the Ohio Conference. You can suggest resources to him at [email protected]or (800) 272-4664. This article was published September 9, 2010.