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Record giving, but rise fails to match rate of inflation

15 August 2014


Noted: the Governor of the Bank of England. Mark Carney, speaks during the bank's quarterly inflation report news conference, at the Bank of England, London, on Wednesday 

Noted: the Governor of the Bank of England. Mark Carney, speaks during the bank's quarterly inflation report news conference, at the Bank of E...

GIVING in the Church of England's parishes has reached record levels, new statistics suggest.

The Archbishops' Council's finance statistics for 2012 were published yesterday. They refer to income generated by the Church's 12,500 parishes, as distinct from funds provided centrally by the Church Commissioners.

Parish income in 2012 was £929 million, the highest ever level. This was the first year since 2007 when there was a surplus, £0.2 million, compared with the £60 million generated in 2007, before the economic downturn. But, although donor income has risen at the same slow rate since 2007, this increase has not matched inflation; so, in real terms, parish income has fallen - by 12 per cent since 2007.

On average, tax-efficient planned givers gave about £11 per week, a rise of 3.4 per cent compared with 2011. Total donor income increased by just 0.4 per cent, owing to lower levels of Gift Aid payments from HM Revenue and Customs, and slightly fewer regular donors (down by 0.8 per cent to 490,600).

"Overall, I think it is good news, in that everybody who is giving is being very generous and increasing their giving: folk have never given so much before," the Church of England's national stewardship adviser, Dr John Preston, said on Tuesday. He noted, however, that the average proportion of income given (3.4 per cent) was lower than the official church target of five per cent. "One thing that is definitely true is that those who are poorer tend to give more as a percentage of income," he said.

A survey of 1500 donors referred to by Dr Preston suggests that, on average, about half of a parish's income is given by about 20 per cent of those who give.

"You do see considerable variation from one church to another," he said. "Those doing stewardship well will have higher levels of giving. . . . What we need to talk about is vision. Then, people get excited; they get bored hearing about cost. We are not always good at talking about impact and outcomes. We need to be saying: 'When you give to this chuch you are enabling grieving people to be comforted, children to hear assemblies, youth work, enabling it to be open as a spiritual space."

Looking forward, Dr Preston was confident that "church folk will stay commited and generous," but he warned that, "if attendance continues to decline, then there is increasing pressure on existing givers, and we will continue to struggle to grow."

Funding for growth. A cash boost of £4.6 million has been awarded by the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops' Council to five dioceses that impressed them with their proposals to reverse numerical decline in church attendance.

In a competitive process, dioceses were invited to submit bids to the Spending Plans Task Group, which has the job of allocating the Strategic Development Funding: a new stream of money dedicated to achieving growth.

The five successful dioceses - Birmingham, Chelmsford, Leicester, Liverpool and Sheffield - are all in the lowest quartile of deprivation. The projects reflect the commitment of the Commissioners to tackling the numerical decline depicted in the recent research report From Anecdote to Evidence (News, 17 January). A willingness to learn from the corporate world is also suggested in the language used to describe the projects.

In the diocese of Chelmsford, for example, funding will be given to turn around parishes "offering the greatest potential, based on a statistical analysis of a range of strategic and financial performance factors, and other characteristics".


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