May 22, 2010; Source: Dallas Morning News | When Pastor Rick Warren of the mammoth Saddleback Church, one of the nation’s largest (based in California), sends out a mass e-mail asking for emergency donations, you know that religious giving is suffering just like charitable giving to nonprofits.  Warren’s December 2009 e-mail told his 22,000 church members and others that Saddleback was $900,000 short on the last weekend of the year.

Of course, Warren’s e-mail succeeded in getting $2.4 million in pledges, but churches without the internationally known Warren at the helm are finding the economy tough on their fundraising.  Religious giving is still the primary interest of American charitable donors, but in 2008, according to the Dallas Morning News, 29 percent of churches nationwide reported a downturn in their fundraising, a figure that increased to 38 percent in 2009.

In the Dallas area specifically, many churches are postponing capital campaigns in favor of focusing on operational fundraising.  But giving to churches is still better than that for nonprofits.  A survey by the Barna Group indicated that half of adults had cut their donations to nonprofits, but only 29 percent had reduced their giving to churches, though one-fourth of religious donors had cut their church giving by 20 percent or more.

Of concern to Warren and his peers, giving to mega-churches has basically been flat between 2005 and 2008, presumably worse in 2009.  The Dallas churches in this article may be hurting, but the Texas economy is in much better shape regarding charitable giving than other states.  Nonetheless, even if it is flat or down, giving to religious institutions is still a mainstay in the nation’s overall charitable picture and will hardly put Dallas churches or Saddleback-type mega-ministries out of business.—Rick Cohen