Christianity in America and Quarterly
Financial Trends

SUMMARY

In August 2012, we asked members of ECCU’s exclusive Ministry Advisory Panel (MAP)** about their ministries’ financial performance and other key metrics from the second quarter of 2012. We also asked their opinion about the impact of culture on Christianity in the United States. Here are some key findings:

  • Second quarter results met expectations, with most church segments reporting quarter-to-quarter revenue increases (except medium churches).
  • On attendance, Q2 2012 showed a quarter-to-quarter trend reversal with micro churches experiencing a 55% increase in attendance (22% over the Q2 2010 base period) while all other size segments experienced a decrease. The decrease was most significant at large and mega churches.
  • Quarter-to-quarter, giving units increased across all church segments by an average of 9%. With the exception of medium churches, the average revenue per giving unit also increased by an average of 7%.
  • 64% of respondents believe Christian Americans’ commitment to Christianity is lukewarm at best. None believe it is very strong.
  • 88% of respondents confirmed their ministry is taking specific steps to counteract the negative societal influence on their youth, but the same number (88%) believe Christians in the United States need to more actively oppose negative societal influences.

** The MAP is composed of ECCU member and non-member ministry staff and leaders representing evangelical Christian churches, businesses, schools, and other ministries. This report was produced by ECCU’s research department.

CULTURE’S IMPACT ON CHRISTIANITY

There is no doubt that society has a strong influence on people’s attitudes and beliefs. Everywhere you look, television and movie celebrities, athletes, and politicians are leveraging their platforms to advance their views on things ranging from finances to sexuality. But how is American culture influencing Christianity in the United States?

To find out, we asked our ministry panelists. Here’s how they responded to our questions and statements:

Question: How would you characterize most Christian Americans' level of commitment to their faith?

  • 64% of respondents believe Christian Americans’ commitment to Christianity is lukewarm at best. None believe it is very strong.

Statement 1: Our ministry is taking specific steps to counteract the negative societal influence on our youth.

  • The vast majority (88%) of respondents confirmed their ministries are taking specific steps to counteract the negative societal influence on their youth, but the same number (88%) believe Christians in the United States need to more actively oppose negative societal influences.

Statement 2: Christianity in the United States is as strong as it has ever been.

  • Although 36% of respondents believe Christian Americans’ commitment to Christianity is somewhat strong, only 11% believe Christianity in the United States is as strong as it has ever been.
  • 79% believe Christianity in the United States is weaker today than ever before.

Statement 3: The negative effect of the media on society is greatly exaggerated.

  • 79% disagree that the negative effect of the media on society is greatly exaggerated. These same ministries are also taking specific steps to counteract the negative societal influence on their youth.

Statement 4: Our ministry is safe from society's influence and moral decline.

  • 75% of respondents believe that their ministries are vulnerable to society’s influence and moral decline, while 15% believe they are somewhat or completely safe from it.

Statement 5: Christians in the United States need to more actively oppose negative societal influences.

  • 83% think Christians need to be more involved in opposing negative societal influences, while 11% think that greater involvement isn’t necessary.

Commentary:
While we would expect responses to some of these statements to be highly correlated, there were very few consistent patterns in these responses. For example, although 88% of respondents say they are taking specific steps to counteract the negative societal influences on their youth, 83% believe Christians need to be more active in doing so. Another example: 36% believe Christian Americans’ commitment to Christianity is somewhat strong, but only 11% feel Christians don’t need to more actively oppose negative societal influences.

One fact that most respondents (64%) seem to agree on, is that Christianity in the United States is lukewarm at best. This prompts the question of how ministry leaders can leverage their influence to change this statistic.

It’s true that prayer and faith in action are essential to ministry success, and so are finances. Sound financial management gives a ministry more freedom to focus on its mission and increase the effectiveness of volunteers, missionaries, and staff in engaging their community. Are you being as effective as you can be?

Q2 2012 IN REVIEW

Results are in for the second quarter of 2012, and they seem promising, especially for a segment that has suffered great losses in both revenue and attendance over the past year: Micro churches.

Compared to the Q2 2010 base period, attendance was up 22% at micro churches, but they weren’t the only ones. With the exception of medium churches, revenue improved in all church size categories.

Attendance, on the other hand, improved only at micro churches in quarter-to-quarter comparisons.

CHURCH FINANCIAL TRENDS THROUGH Q2 2012

Quarterly ministry trends have been captured in this format since the second quarter of 2010 (base period). Ministries are segmented by type and size each reporting period. The type and size segmentation framework used is as follows:

(Every effort is made to ensure a broad representation of ministries by type and size, but seasonality and the overall nature of online survey panels impact our ability to provide statistically significant results. Where statistical significance cannot be achieved, the results are omitted.)

Churches
This is the quarterly revenue change index beginning with the Q2 2010 base period:

  • With the exception of medium churches, here we see an overall improvement across all size segments when compared to the base period. Medium churches suffered a 5% decline over the previous period.
  • Mega churches continue to outperform all other church size segments, showing a 131% improvement over the base period. A significant drop of 15% to 20% is expected in the third quarter.

Here is another way of looking at the information presented in the table above:

  • Mega churches achieved a new all-time high in Q2 2012.
  • Although somewhat steady or improving, medium and large churches remain just under the baseline period.

The following table represents a running quarterly attendance change index beginning with the Q2 2010 base period:

  • Q2 2012 showed a quarter-to-quarter trend reversal, with micro churches experiencing a 55% increase in attendance (22% over the Q2 2010 base period) while all other size segments experienced a decrease. The decrease was most significant at large and mega churches.

Here is another way of looking at the information presented in the table above:

The following two tables report attendance and revenue averages by church size for the second quarter of 2012. The “Low” figure represents the lowest reported number in its segment. The “High” figure represents the highest reported number in its segment.

This table shows the average revenue per church attendee, the previous quarter’s average revenue per church attendee, and the percent difference between the two.

To better represent the metrics that are most indicative of a ministry’s financial health, we captured the average number of giving units in addition to adult attendance. Although the definition of a giving unit varies by ministry, 46% of ministries track giving in this manner. The method least used (7%) is giving per member. The table below reports average giving units during the Q2 2012 period.

  • Quarter-to-quarter, giving units increased across all church segments by an average of 9%. With the exception of medium churches, the average revenue per giving unit also increased by an average of 7%.

OTHER KEY METRICS: CASH RESERVES (BUDGET VS. ACTUAL)

In this section we track ministries’ performance on meeting their cash reserves goals. For more information on how to budget your cash reserves or for general budgeting best practices, visit www.eccu.org/resources.

  • Ministries are keeping pace with their budgeted cash reserve goals. The greatest gap was in the mega church segment, where reserves exceeded budgets by 3% on average.

This table highlights how well churches were able to achieve their budgeted cash reserves goals.

  • 25% of churches that budgeted cash reserves in the 31- to 60-day range were only able to achieve cash reserves for 0 to 30 days.
  • 66% of all respondent ministries set their cash reserves goal at greater than 30 days of their operational budget, but only 34% achieved their goal.

Commentary:
The most consistent group over the past two years is the medium church segment. The long-running trend of declining micro church attendance might be at an end. It’s hard to discern the reasons why, given that unemployment remains high and employee earnings remain relatively flat. However, there is a statistically significant negative correlation between attendance levels at micro and large to mega church segments. Could it be that absence makes the heart grow fonder and it’s time for micro church attendees to return home?

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU

What can ministry financial decision-makers do to combat the negative societal influences of our current culture? What do you think is causing the micro church attendance fluctuations? We would appreciate hearing your opinion on these and any other topics. Please send your comments to market.research@eccu.org.

 

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