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Religious giving: not yet reviving

Post-recession giving to churches not keeping pace with overall charitable contributions

July 10, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS

Charitable giving last year (2013) continued a four-year climb from recession lows recorded in 2009. The cumulative gains amount to 22 percent in today’s dollars and 12.3 percent when adjusted for inflation.

Unfortunately, religious giving (made up primarily of houses of worship) has not enjoyed the same journey. The trend for church-related giving from 2012 to 2013 was flat (-0.2 percent) with a total of $105.53 billion contributed. Adjusted for inflation, church giving declined 1.6 percent.

The religious share of charitable giving also declined to 31% of overall charitable giving ― down from 32 percent last year. This represents a significant drop over the last 30-years, since the mid-1980s, when giving to religion constituted over half of all charitable giving.

Further, giving to religion has declined 2.4 percent after adjusting for inflation from 2009-2013.

Since the charitable giving pie as a whole is growing and most other subsectors are enjoying the benefits of that growth, the pressing question for religious giving is “why is religious giving lagging?” Giving USA 2014 offers a number of possible explanations:

Changing preferences for religious giving: Citing Connected to Give: Faith Communities,the report noted that almost three-quarters (73 percent) of all charitable giving in 2012 supported religious organizations and religious givers gave more than nonreligious givers. Religious givers are giving the largest part of the pie but a smaller amount is going to their congregations.

Changes in American religious life: The report notes that The 2012 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life underscores a decline in both church attendance and church affiliation. This is particularly true among Millennials as 20 percent of all Americans and one-third of those 30 and under consider themselves unaffiliated with a religion.

An emerging anti-institutional mindset seems to be reflected in these findings. Patrick Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has noted, “Those who were religiously affiliated were more likely to be religious donors than those who were not religiously affiliated. Religious attendance was also positively associated with the likelihood of religious giving.”

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