Support of overseas missions linked to growth

While support of international missions appears to strengthen religious denominations, such funding has dropped over the last 80 years, a new report says.

In 2003, denominations spent an average of 2 cents of every dollar donated by congregations on international mission projects, down from 7 cents in the 1920s, the report says.

Empty Tomb, a Christian nonprofit research group based in Champaign, Ill., surveyed 28 denominations representing about 146,000 congregations for its 2003 State of Church Giving report.

Half the denominations surveyed lost membership between 1968 and 2003, the report says, with growing denominations showing a higher level of support for international missions at 2.8 percent of donated dollars, and shrinking groups showing lower-than-average support of less than 1 percent.

Giving as a percentage of income dropped from 2002 to 2003, the report says, and the percentage of income donated to “benevolences,” which include overseas missions, local outreach to shelters and support for seminaries, hit a 36-year low.

Americans donated 1.12 percent of their income to charity in 2003, with more than seven in 10 of those dollars going to religious organizations, the report says.

While evangelicals gave a greater percentage of their income to churches, that number has fallen steadily over the last several decades.

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