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Inflation hits parish income

22 March 2024

Giving decreased in real terms in 2022, statistics show

Alamy

THE number of regular givers in the Church of England has fallen since 2013 by 30 per cent — 172,000 — statistics published by Church House, Westminster, show.

The figures, in Parish Finance Statistics 2022, published last month, were gathered through the annual Return of Parish Finance. For the second year, parishes’ income grew modestly, after the sharp downturn of 2020. This was “eroded by the effects of inflation”, however, the statistical researcher, the Revd Dr Alan Piggott, reports.

Income from giving, fund-raising, and trading was not enough to keep pace with inflation or recoup the losses of 2020 (in which parishes’ income fell by 15 per cent). Parishes’ real-terms income fell by 14 per cent between 2019 and 2022. The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose by 5.4 per cent in the 12 months to December 2021.

In total, there were 401,000 regular givers in 2021. Statistics for Mission records that, in the same year, total adult average weekly attendance was 567,000.

The average weekly amount from regular givers has risen each year in recent decades; but, in 2022, for the first time, this amount decreased in real terms: to £16.20, from £16.80 in 2021. In total, giving income was 13 per cent lower in real terms than in 2019. Fund-raising income was 31 per cent lower, and trading income was 21 per cent lower. But, in 2022, there was a £10-million rise in collections taken, at services as churches continued to open more after the pandemic.

Since 2011, parish income has exceeded expenditure (by 3.5 per cent in 2022). The total income of parishes was £1055 million, and the total expenditure was £1019 million. The largest source of income was parish giving: £586 million. The highest costs were mission and ministry.

In 2022, expenditure fell in real terms and was lower than in any of the previous 20 years: 15 per cent lower than in 2019. Diocesan parish-share contributions were 17 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels in real terms (although the 2021 downturn in contributions was reversed), falling from £383 million to £318 million. Expenditure on salaries and wages rose over the same period by 19 per cent to £137 million. Expenditure on buildings was 25 per cent less than 2019 levels, in real terms.

The report highlights the gulf between the richest and poorest parishes. In 2022, the ten per cent of parishes with the smallest income had a median income of £6200. For the ten per cent of parishes with the highest income, it was £296,000. The median income for all 12,215 parishes was £42,200, compared with £45,800 in 2019. More than half of the ten per cent of parishes with the lowest income were in deficit (of 14 per cent).

Variation also exists across the dioceses. Dividing parishes’ total income by the total number of people in their worshipping communities gave a national average figure of £1090 for each person. The figure for individual dioceses, however, varied from less than £750 to more than £1500 for each person.

Income in some dioceses increased between 2021 and 2022 — by more than 20 per cent in the dioceses of Chelmsford, Norwich, and Truro. In Sodor & Man, it fell by 45 per cent (the discrepancy is explained by the fact that, in 2021/22, one parish had a £1 million legacy recorded as income, and some parishes did not submit their data on time and some not at all). Parish share that was paid varied from a 7.8-per-cent decrease in the diocese of Canterbury to a 7.3-per-cent increase in the diocese of Lincoln (which had one of the lowest totals in 2021).

This week, the Lincoln Diocesan Secretary, Canon David Dadswell, reported a “year-on-year increase” since the pandemic in “the confidence and capability of parishes to honour what we call covenant pledges”. This scheme “flips the idea of the parish share on its head”, he said, and was “more realistic and achievable” for churches, which were “now making manageable and informed decisions about their contributions”.

He linked the success of the initiative to the diocesan strategy, “Time to Change Together”, which “grounds us in a shared commitment to give generously and respond faithfully to each other’s needs across the whole diocese” (Features, 18 March 2022).

Around the Church, the number of regular givers fell by 4.1 per cent. But this varied between dioceses. The number fell by more than eight per cent in the dioceses of Birmingham, Carlisle, and Sheffield. In Sheffield, total regular giving fell by 15 per cent. The next highest fall in giving was in Manchester (down five per cent). A spokesperson for Sheffield said: “We need to take some time to review this information and understand the local trends and factors that are at play.”

In two large dioceses — Chelmsford and Chichester — the fall in the number of regular givers varied significantly: there was a decline of 6.6 per cent in the former, but just 1.2 per cent in the latter.

At the end of 2021, parishes’ aggregated cash and investment balances — excluding funds held as permanent endowments — were estimated at about £1.6 billion.

Parish finances have an effect on diocesan finances, because parish share is a large component of dioceses’ income. Addressing the General Synod last year, the outgoing chair of the Archbishops’ Council’s Finance Committee, John Spence, said that the aggregate deficit of dioceses in 2019 was £19 million; but, in the four years 2024-27, with flat parish share and without sustainability funding, this was set to be £200 million (News, 14 July 2023). The number of regular givers fell by 15 per cent between 2019 and 2021.

Across dioceses, the percentage of worshippers who were regular givers varied between 30 and 64 per cent, while the level of giving ranged from £8 to £26 per week, with no correlation with deprivation.

The Church Commissioners have invested £7.5 million in a national giving strategy, in which much of the funding has been used to help dioceses to employ giving advisers. On Tuesday, the C of E’s National Adviser on Giving and Income Generation, Jonathan de Bernhardt Wood, spoke of the complexity of factors behind the range of levels of giving.

Factors included the commitment of episcopal leadership, the extent to which giving was taught as a form of discipleship, the employment of giving advisers, and the use of forms of giving which might be better able to withstand the shock of the pandemic, such as the Parish Giving Scheme. The latter scheme has grown exponentially since 2014: from 7244 people, giving £5.3 million, to 80,000 people, giving £78 million (News, 1 December 2023). In addition, several thousand churches now had contactless units, Mr de Bernhardt Wood said, which generated income far in excess of projected amounts.

Communicating to parishioners the impact of their giving was a crucial part of the answer, he said, and “making sure that people fully understand that local ministry is funded by local people”.

Most Anglicans are not giving the five per cent of net income recommended by the national Church. A 2020 survey of 2000 Anglicans attending church at least once a month found that one third did not give to their church at all, and that only 27 per cent viewed their church’s needs as “very important” (Features, 17 September 2021). Mr de Bernhardt Wood suggested this week that the pandemic had shifted attitudes, in terms of understanding churches’ needs.

Some have argued that reducing the number of stipendiary priests in post results in a decline in giving. A 2012 review of the diocese of Lincoln — where giving was among the lowest in the Church of England — suggested that this was because the provision of stipendiary clergy and support for parishes had “declined so significantly that they see no point in giving more” (28 September 2012).

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