Survey Says American Protestant Pastors Are Less Optimistic About Economy’s Impact on Churches

As retail stores hope the holiday shopping season gives their bottom line a lift, American Protestant pastors are less sure the economy is helping their congregation this year.

Around 2 in 5 pastors of Protestant churches in the United States (41 percent) say the economy is having no impact on their church, according to a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The rest are nearly split on whether the effect is positive (30 percent) or negative (26 percent).

“Fundamentally, the U.S. economy is in a similar place that it was a year ago,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Yet pastors are less optimistic about this outside influence on their church than they were in 2018.”

While the 30 percent of pastors who believe the economy is having a positive impact is more than triple what it was in the first part of this decade, it’s down sharply from the 45 percent who felt the same way in 2018.

The percentage of pastors who feel a negative impact from the economy increased for the first time since 2010.

After falling in every survey from a high of 80 percent in October 2010, the percentage jumped from 14 percent in September 2018 to 26 percent this year.

African American pastors are the most likely to say the economy is having a negative effect on their congregation (49 percent), while white pastors are the most likely to see a positive impact for their church (33 percent).

Pastors of the smallest congregations, those with fewer than 50 in attendance, are most likely to say the economy is having a negative impact (37 percent) and the least likely to say it’s having a positive one (17 percent).

Offerings up or stable

Whatever the economic climate is outside the church, around 3 in 4 pastors say their offerings this year have been at or above last year’s.

More than a third (37 percent) say their church’s giving has been up so far this year. The same percentage (37 percent) say it has been the same as 2018.

Close to 1 in 5 (21 percent) say their offering totals are below last year’s levels.

Those numbers are not as strong as in the 2018 LifeWay Research study when 42 percent of Protestant pastors said their offerings were above 2017, 37 percent said giving was the same, and 15 percent said it was below.

“Last year was the first year in which many Americans had lower withholding levels because of tax reform,” said McConnell. “It’s not surprising that fewer churches are seeing year-over-year growth in 2019 without a similar stimulus to their congregants’ take-home pay.”

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Source: Baptist Press