December 15, 2021

Church Trends

Have you been asking yourself whether your local church has the same struggles or blessings with money as do other Seventh-day Adventist congregations across the United States? Now we know, and I can give you a yardstick to use in your finance committee or church board.

The results of the once-a-decade survey of local churches done last year were released recently, and they include two revealing items specifically about the current financial health of congregations and the impact of the recession. The Adventist data were collected by the Institute of Church Ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University under the direction of Roger Dudley. He conducted his survey in coordination with more than 40 other faith groups and Christian denominations, so we can compare the random sample of 347 Adventist churches with the 11,077 congregations in the 25 other surveys. (The entire research effort is called Faith Communities Today, or FACT.)

Impact of the Recession
2011 1519 page30The economic crisis that began in 2008 has had a negative impact on the church. The majority of local churches (57 percent) report that their income has declined. At the same time, one third said it did not decline, including some who actually had increases. A small portion saw a decline, but by 2010 had seen a rebound to the former level of income or greater.

When income falls, most churches are forced to cut back on expenditures. This is especially true in Adventist churches because very few have reserves or an endowment of significant size. Often the church board feels that it cannot cut back on the cost of utilities or fire insurance, and so forth, so these cuts come almost entirely from the funds used for the ministries of the congregation. It is a test of character as to whether more is cut from outreach than nurture ministries.

Financial Health of the Local Church
Congregations of other faiths felt basically the same impact from the recession as did Adventist churches, but in regard to the overall financial health of the local church, Adventists are clearly doing better than most other congregations. Half of Adventist churches reported that their financial health in 2010 was excellent or good. Just 14 percent of all other faith congregations in the U.S. said the same. (See graph.) One third of Adventist churches indicated that their finances were “tight, but we get by.” Only 17 percent report that their finances were in difficulty.

Clearly, God has blessed the Adventist Church in the U.S. during this difficult time. Even with reduced income, local Adventist churches have been able to continue to reach out to their communities, teach the gospel message to those who come to Sabbath school and Bible seminars, educate children and young people, and extend hospitality to all comers.

How to Deal With Economic Crisis

  • Prayer should focus on the situation, the needs of members and ministries, and seek God’s will in how to proceed.
  • Help should be extended to church members and neighbors in the community who experience unemployment and may be thrust into poverty. There will be increased demand on community food pantries, etc. This is also an opportunity for our churches to start support groups for the unemployed.
  • If the budget must be cut, use the mission of Christ,  not secular management concepts,  as the norm. One church decided to meet in their church building only once a month to reduce the cost of utilities. On the other Sabbaths they meet in several small groups in the homes of church members. The number of new believers has actually increased!
  • Continue to teach and demonstrate stewardship no matter what is happening in the economy. God’s expectations of us do not change in recession or in boom times.

Let us praise God for His goodness in these difficult times, and look for opportunities to do His work among our neighbors. That is the principle of faithfulness in all times.

Monte Sahlin is director of research and special projects for the Ohio Conference and a senior consultant at the Center for Creative Ministry. Questions and suggestions can be sent to him at [email protected]. This article was published July 14, 2011.