In the midst of denomination-wide dialogue about the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churchwide special offerings, majorities of Presbyterians believe that six of the activities currently funded by the offerings are important for the PC(USA) to engage in.

While Presbyterians are open to various changes in the offerings, they aren’t sure about funding a new cause or regularly receiving letters or e-mail requests to contribute to the offerings.

These are among findings from the May 2011 Presbyterian Panel survey on special offerings.

The PC(USA) has four churchwide special offerings that help fund local, regional, and national ministries.  The One Great Hour of Sharing Offering currently supports emergency relief and community improvement; the Pentecost Offering, children’s ministries and youth and young adult ministries; the Peacemaking Offering, peacemaking; and the Christmas Joy Offering, financial assistance for church workers in need and for PC(USA)-related racial-ethnic schools and colleges.

The Panel results show particular support for both emergency relief and child advocacy, which more than three in four members, ruling elders, pastors, and non-parish ministers believe are “very important” or “important” ministries for the PC(USA) to undertake.  Majorities in all four groups also believe youth ministries, young adult ministries, financial assistance to church workers in need, and peacemaking are also “very important” or “important.”

Fewer pastors but majorities of members, ruling elders, and non-parish ministers also believe that it is “very important” or “important” for the PC(USA) to help local groups improve their communities.  Financial support for PC(USA)-related racial-ethnic schools and colleges receives “very important” or “important” ratings from majorities of non-parish ministers but fewer members, elders, and pastors.

Fewer than one in six members, ruling elders, pastors, and non-parish ministers believe that there is a new or different ministry that the PC(USA) should support through special offerings. Most others are  not sure, however, rather than rejecting this possibility entirely.

At least four in ten participants in each Panel group indicate that they would be more likely to donate to special offerings if each of three innovations were made:  giving individuals more choices about which ministries their offering donations support; giving congregations the option to direct a portion of the funds they collect to a local cause of their choosing (something already possible with the Pentecost and Peacemaking Offerings); and disseminating information more regularly about the ministries supported by special offerings.

Receiving mailed or emailed requests for special offering contributions would affect giving more negatively than positively among Panel respondents in every group, according to the survey, although the largest segment in each group (40 percent or more) reports that such correspondence would likely have no effect on their giving. 

The survey was conducted on behalf of the PC(USA) Special Offerings Task Force, which has  recommended changes to the offerings that the General Assembly will consider at its meeting this summer in Pittsburgh.

“Most activities that special offerings support are valued by majorities of Presbyterians, often large majorities,” said Perry Chang, Presbyterian Panel administrator.  “Perhaps for that reason, Presbyterians are more circumspect about possible changes to the offerings.”

Every three years the PC(USA) Research Services office assembles representative samples of Presbyterian church members, ruling elders, and teaching elders to respond to questions on different topics quarterly.  Known as the Presbyterian Panel, these randomly chosen respondents form a vital means for church leaders to learn about the beliefs and experiences of rank-and-file Presbyterians.

For more information about Panel surveys and other Research Services studies and services, visit the Research Services website or contact Research Services at (800) 728-7228, ext. 5071, or by email.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comprises more than 2 million members in more than 10,000 congregations, answering Christ’s call to mission and ministry throughout the United States and the world.