Just like the rain, money troubles have fallen on the just and the unjust, including Kentucky communities of faith.
As the economy continues to struggle, shrinking donations, rising costs and greater need are stretching thin the finances of many congregations. And there's more competition from other non-profits.
"The Red Cross, tsunami relief, other non-profits do a better job of asking," said the Rev. Kory Wilcoxson, senior minister at Crestwood Christian Church. "There is more competition for non-profit dollars."
According to research by the Barna Group, a research and resource company in California that focuses on faith and culture, the national tithing rate is down to 4 percent of the adult population. That is slightly below the levels of the past 10 years and significantly lower than 2010's rate of 7 percent.
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Barna found that in 2009 almost 30 percent of adults had reduced giving to their churches and nearly half said they also had curtailed their donations to other non-profits. In April 2011, that number stood firm at 30 percent, with 24 percent of that 30 percent saying they had stopped giving to their churches.
Steve McSwain, the Louisville-based author of The Giving Myths: Giving Then Getting the Life You've Wanted (Smyth & Helwys Publishers, $14), counsels congregations across the theological spectrum.
McSwain found that faith communities reflect the times. Until 2008, according to McSwain, "churches mirrored the economic climate. They were extravagant, borrowing lots of money, sometimes from unscrupulous lenders."
Now, churches are experiencing a new financial reality. With few exceptions, giving is down, said McSwain, although he has observed that Kentucky churches have been more stable than those in some other areas.
The financial challenges are causing many churches to examine their purpose and redefine goals.
At Crestwood Christian, a church of about 300 families, the number of members pledging for the upcoming year was down, but the amount of money given to the church has stayed "pretty level," Wilcoxson said. He attributes that to an unwillingness to "let God down," by failing to fulfill a pledge.
Recently, his congregation decided to fill two full-time positions and add a half-time staff member. Said Wilcoxson, we are "taking a leap of faith, which is the business we're in."
In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, the annual appeal, which "covers the overhead like keeping the lights on," was down slightly, said Tom Shaughnessy, director of communication.
The Lexington diocese is a mission diocese, which means at least half of the parishes depend on "outside funding" to sustain them. Even though the annual appeal was down, no one has been laid off. The diocese has seen a slight decrease in the number of students attending its schools.
"For a household to commit to a private religious education can be substantial," Shaughnessy said.
On the upside, mission-specific giving has been healthy. "In 2010, we ended a successful capital campaign," he said. "The goal was $12 million, and we wound up with $16 million. The campaign exceeded expectations quite well. We were collecting for the seminary, increased retirements. When you clearly define the need, at least in this area, the Catholic community tends to step up enthusiastically."
Lexington Theological Seminary president Charisse L. Gillett has been through the process of rethinking resources. In late 2008, the seminary cut faculty and staff by about half. Enrollment, which was 101 in 2008-09, fell to 69 the next year.
In September 2010, the seminary began teaching classes primarily online.
"In our difficult times, we went back and looked at our mission, which is to prepare faithful leaders," said Gillett.
Now, seminary enrollment has recovered, with 100 students.
"Students tell us the experience they are having is exactly what they were looking for: a way to take theory and practice and use it immediately in the way they care for people," Gillett said.
In early March, the Kentucky Baptist Convention in Louisville announced an offer for early buy-outs to its 60 full-time workers. Robert Reeves, communications director at KBC, said it took some time for the economy to catch up with the member churches.
"We don't typically feel it immediately. People continue to give as long as they can" to the local church, he said.
At Midway Presbyterian Church, the congregation relies on an endowment they "have been frugal with," said the Rev. Mary Seeger Weese. But Weese said they seek to find a balance of being "not wasteful or miserly. We try to consider each situation carefully. Money makes a statement about your values."
For a low-cost mission project, the church began a community garden on adjoining property. It is maintained by church volunteers.
"Giving your time and presence to something, whether it's being in a garden or visiting a nursing home, sometimes is more costly than just writing a check. ... people do want to get 'good value' for their money and they want to make a difference," she said.
As churches continue to be affected by the economy, author McSwain sees the upside of the last few years of financial turmoil.
"The economic crisis is the greatest thing to happen to a church," he said. "They have to really look at themselves, and it can be a wonderful discovery. ... The leadership will want to get back to basics: Why are we here?"