NEW YORK - Donations to churches have fallen for the second consecutive year and as the economy recovers slowly religious leaders are hoping a thrifty faithful is not the new normal - at least when it comes to giving.
Nearly 40 percent of churches reported a decline in donations last year, prompting many pastors to prod their congregation about the importance of giving in the bad times as well as the good, according to research by Maximum Generosity and Christianity Today International.
Pastor Brian Kluth, founder of Maximum Generosity, which provides information on fund raising to churches, said a fifth of churches had to cut their budgets by 5 to 20 percent or more in 2009 because of falling donations.
The "State of the Plate" survey shows that two thirds of churches actively taught their congregations about being generous last year, while half held financial classes and seminars and nearly a quarter had volunteer financial councilors to help families whether the storm.
"You really have to come along side and help people manage their own finances better and then in turn that will free up resources that they can be generous with," said Kluth.
Americans give $300 billion dollars to charity annually, with about one third of that coming from religious donations, according to data from the Giving USA Foundation, a not-for-profit charity consultant.
Billions of dollars were wiped off household wealth in 2008 as stock markets went into tail spin and the world was griped by financial crisis. Asset prices rallied in 2009 but some economists believe that high unemployment and reduced consumers spending will be the "new normal."
"People will continue to face challenging times as more people are out of work or do not see there incomes increasing," said Kluth, who pointed to a separate survey showing income in 1000 Christian households either stayed the same of decreased last year.
So-called mega churches, with congregations in the thousands and budgets in the millions - were among the hardest hit, according to the research, with nearly half of them reporting reductions in donations. More than half of churches on the U.S. west coast said donations fell.
On a positive note, the research also showed that around a third of churches increased giving to help people in their church and community in financial need, while giving to missions also increased in 30 percent of churches.