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The majority of senior pastors in the U.S. say the economy has affected their churches in a negative way, according to a new three-part study released in installments by The Barna Group throughout January and February.  

More than 1,000 Protestant leaders were interviewed in the nationwide sampling, which was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2009. Among those interviewed, 57 percent indicated a negative impact on their churches due to the economy. On the positive side, however, 35 percent said their churches had not been affected, and 9 percent stated that, even in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the last year was financially positive for their congregations.

Who was hardest hit by budget reductions? Churches of fewer than 100 adults that saw their revenue shrink by 16 percent, researchers found. Large churches fared better—revenues were down less than 10 percent in church bodies of 1,000 or more adults. Multi-site churches—congregations that meet in more than one location—were the most likely group to report a “very negative” economic impact.

Missionaries were not immune from the fiscal impacts, either. Almost 1 in every 25 churches, the study reported, said they had reduced their giving to missions programs or missionaries. This was perhaps not a surprise to researchers, considering the finding that 3 out of 10 Americans had dropped their level of support to churches because of the recession.

One finding was intriguing, and perhaps somewhat positive—the percentage of adults who tithe to their local churches has not changed since 2000. It still remains a steady 5 percent to 7 percent of the churchgoing population.

To read the full Barna report, visit

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By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles

is a credentialed minister and freelance editor living in Sacramento, Calif.

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