GIVING by Church of England parishioners has continued to rise, but not by enough to cancel out increases in prices and costs, the latest figures have shown.
An overview of parish finances for 2014 has been released in a report by the Church. It shows that total planned giving increased from £323 million to £329 million, which amounted to an average of £11.22 every week for each churchgoing donor.
This increase of 1.86 per cent was less than the retail price index of inflation for 2014, however, which meant that, in real terms, churches had less income from gifts to spend.
This decline has been going on since at least 2009. In 2014, parishioners donated £329 million; but in 2009, adjusting for inflation, they gave £361 million.
The drop in giving has been matched by a fall in the total number of churchgoers who give. In 2007, when the way in which giving statistics were collected was changed to the current method, there were 634,377 people giving money to their parish church in a planned way (rather than through a collection, for instance). In 2014, that figure had fallen by 70,000 to 564,141.
The C of E’s national stewardship adviser, Dr John Preston, said: “As a result of the commitment and generosity of hundreds of thousands of church members, we have seen record levels of giving — with the average weekly gift from all planned givers exceeding £11 for the first time, and the average gift from those able to give through Gift Aid exceeding £15 including the tax recovered.”
As well as Gift-aided regular giving, parishes also pulled in £57 million from collections during services, and £59 million from fund-raising in 2014.
Each of those two sources amounted to six per cent of churches’ total income. Planned regular giving was 33 per cent, and tax recovered from Gift Aid amounted to a further nine per cent — £88 million in total.
While giving has been gradually declining, relative to inflation, over the past ten years, the longer view shows a rise in parishioners’ generosity.
Fifty years ago, in 1964, the average given per electoral-roll member each week was £1.80 in 2014 cash terms. A half-century later, that figure had gone up to £8.85.
The report notes research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations which found that, because people often give to charities through standing orders, direct debits, or envelope schemes, in round amounts such as £5 or £10, inflation steadily eats away at charities’ income.
For instance, someone giving £20 a week in 2004 would have had to increase their regular gift to £27.42 by 2014 for the parish to be able to spend the same amount with their donation because of inflation.
Parishes’ total income, from giving, collections, fund-raising, investments, parochial fees, and other sources topped almost a billion pounds in 2014, at £989 million. That was an increase of £36 million from the previous year — a rise of 3.7 per cent, beating inflation which, that year, averaged 2.4 per cent.
Total parish spending was also up to £948 million, which meant that there was a surplus of £41 million across the Church’s 12,600 parishes.
This four-per-cent surplus matches exactly the one achieved in 2013; but, over the past decade, despite an increase in money coming in, from £759 million to £989 million, parish income has dropped five per cent because it has failed to keep pace with inflation.
When adjusted for inflation, spending between 2004 and 2014 has remained relatively stable, and, in 2014, was at its second-lowest level over the decade.
Except for 2009 to 2011, parishes have managed to record surpluses, or have broken even throughout the decade since 2004.
Dr Preston said that the latest figures showed that the Church was on a stable footing. “These financial statistics reveal an underlying financial health in the Church which is encouraging. It is also pleasing to note that legacy giving was the highest yet.”