Report Finds Congregations Recovering from Hard Recession

April 26, 2011 ( – A new report indicates the worst may be over for many American congregations hit hard by the recession.

The “Holy Toll” report, based on the 2010 Faith Communities Today national survey of more than 20 religious groups, found that one in 10 congregations have begun to recover from the loss, and more than 40% are now stable or increasing financially, according to The Christian Century. Researcher David A. Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, said larger congregations seem to be recovering more easily as endowments and investment income rebound, and they have more members who can help them grow their way out of deficits.  

In the survey based on data from more than 11,000 congregations, more than half (57%) of U.S. congregations reported their income had declined due to the recession. Nine percent of congregations said the recession had prompted layoffs or furloughs, and just over a quarter of congregations reported salary freezes or reductions.

According to the report, with about 350,000 congregations in the U.S. employing about 1.5 million clergy and other staff, that translates to more than 500,000 people who lost jobs or had their salaries reduced, and about 50,000 prospective employees who weren’t hired. The Christian Century noted that at the same time, congregations had to ramp up outreach services due to the recession’s toll on local communities. Nearly half of all congregations experienced an increase in requests for cash assistance, and nearly one in four received moderate to major increases in requests for emergency housing.

Even congregations that have recovered from the recession are still struggling with a general economic downturn for America’s religious organizations. From 2000 to 2008 — before the recession’s toll — congregations reporting “excellent financial health” had dropped from 31% to 19%; the number is now about 14%.

Meanwhile, congregations reporting financial difficulty more than doubled, to nearly 20%, in the past decade.

“That the worst is over doesn’t necessarily mean that things are getting better,” Roozen explained in the news report, estimating that at least 5% of congregations won’t be able to rebound.