by Amy Hemphill, Research Associate
First Baptist Church was facing a real problem, and not for the first time. Renters of the two-story home next door to the church had stopped paying their rent three months ago, and the church, as landlord, was faced with a choice: evict the renters or convince them to leave by the end of the month. In addition, the occupants had not taken good care of the property, and the church would have to clean, repaint, and re-carpet the home before renting it to new occupants. The cycle of non-payment and property damage had repeated several times, and the church council had a series of discussions. Should the church be in the property management business? Should they continue attempts to earn income from the home, or could it be put to some other use? How did other congregations their size use similar properties?
U.S. congregations hold discussions and make decisions regularly on money and resources. What budget items may have to be sacrificed when resources dwindle? What is the best approach to raising funds for a special program or new building? What guidelines and practices should be in place to promote transparency and accountability in handling the congregation’s finances?
Lake Institute on Faith & Giving believes in the importance of faith communities and is committed to helping congregations thrive. No matter the tradition, size, or location, all congregations must deal with the issue of money, and determine how to best gather, manage, and spend it to support their mission.
For this reason, Lake Institute is excited to announce that the fielding of our National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP) has begun. Under the guidance of co-directors Dr. David King of Lake Institute and Dr. Brad Fulton of IU Bloomington as well as Project Coordinator Amy Hemphill, a nationally representative sample of U.S. congregations has been invited to complete an online survey instrument that asks how they receive, manage, and spend their resources. Questions about theological and cultural beliefs and practices around money are also included.
The NSCEP study, funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc., is breaking new ground in the area of congregational studies in two ways. First, it will provide in-depth data focused on money issues and practices in U.S. faith communities. Current high-quality congregational studies, such as the National Congregations Study (NCS) and Faith Communities Today (FACT) provide some data on financial questions, but are focused more broadly and are not able to address this topic in-depth. Second, the NSCEP will draw on a nationally representative sample of congregations, addressing the diversity of the U.S. faith landscape. Current studies that provide significant data on congregations’ finances are limited to certain sectors, such as mainline congregations or megachurches. This study will provide in-depth, nationally representative data to support Lake Institute’s signature training programs (such as the Executive Certificate in Fundraising and Creating Congregational Cultures of Generosity), as well as provide new opportunities to equip faith communities with greater understanding on stewardship issues.
The NSCEP research team is already planning ways to report findings from the study that engage and assist leaders of U.S. faith communities at the denominational and congregational levels. We anticipate an overview report and series of themed reports to be released in 2019 combining NSCEP data with best practices and suggestions for creating conversations around these topics. In addition, the NSCEP website will become a resource for clergy and lay leaders who want to interact with the study findings and understand the larger financial context for congregations in the U.S.
Lake Institute on Faith & Giving believes in the importance of congregations and wants to see them thrive; finding and deploying resources in support of their mission is an important piece of this. In order to have faithful discussions and make faithful decisions about their resources, congregation leaders and members need reliable information. The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices will provide just such information, as well as practical applications. Lake Institute is uniquely qualified to conduct the NSCEP, as attested by one of our many endorsers, Christian Century publisher Peter Marty:
“Generosity never gets old, but the culture of giving behaviors is changing rapidly. Congregations are at the hub of much of this change. Who better to undertake a research project of congregational giving practices than the Lake Institute, with its growing reputation as the go-to source for helping understand the interplay between spiritual values, economic data, and philanthropic motive.”
With the data gathered from the NSCEP and tools to apply it, we hope congregations like First Baptist can face tough decisions about church-owned property or plan their next capital campaign with confidence.