Churches adapt to decline, encouraged to maintain vision

By March 8, 2010

USA (MNN) — There's a new "normal" facing churches across
the United States. 

According to a new
Barna research study,  on the average,
Protestant churches saw their budgets shrink 7% due to the struggling economy. That's not as bad as it could be, considering
many are enduring the worst economic conditions in recent history.

The Barna study shows there have been three major ways that
churches have attempted to weather the downturn: by reducing their budgets,
cutting staffing, and cutting back on building expansion projects.  

Summarized, it showed church leadership watching spending,
eliminating non-essentials, and freezing portions of the budget, among other

Evangelist Sammy Tippit says the budget woes have had a
devastating effect on evangelism and thousands of parachurch organizations and
ministries. "There's not as much
income coming into churches, and so what happens often is that the missions budget
is one of the first things that gets cut, because it doesn't have an immediate
impact on that local church."

The research showed nearly one in every 25 churches said
they had reduced their giving to missions or missionaries. "What that means," he explains, "is that missionaries are being hurt. I know
multitudes of missionaries who are struggling. Many don't know if they're
going to be able to stay on the field." 

There have been other reports from the Southern Baptists
indicating a crop of new missionaries unable to raise enough support to go onto
the field at all. A drop in giving may
prompt a pastor to start teaching about tithing and giving as acts of worship.

However, talk is cheap. Tippit asserts that what turns this around is a shift in perspective about
the value of the Gospel.  "I think
that what we have to do, to some extent, is just prioritize what is 'kingdom
business' and what is just 'business as usual.' I think they'll discover that missions is a
high priority on the heart of God. I think that we need to take a real hard
look at it from a Kingdom perspective."

The onus falls on the response of the church itself. Tippit asks, "If you're not taking a
pro-active giving approach from the church itself, then how can you expect more people
from your congregation to give?" 

In his concluding remarks, David Kinnaman, president of the
Barna Group, said, "Like so many others,
church leaders have been focused on surviving; now is the time, though, to
calibrate ministries and strategies to the opportunities brought by the new

Barna's findings are based upon a nationwide sample of 1,008
American adults, conducted in January and early February, 2010.

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