Despite declining membership, five Dutch denominations have generated their best-ever result in their annual fundraising drive, which organisers say generates more money than any other campaign in the Netherlands - writes Andreas Havinga for Ecumenical News International (ENI).
"Fewer members, yet more income," was one headline after the publication in mid-January of the results for 2005 of the fundraising effort, dubbed "Kerkbalans" (or the "church's bottom line"), to raise money for costs such as salaries and the maintenance of buildings.
Figures published earlier this month showed that the country's two largest denominations - the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in the Netherlands - and three smaller churches, including the Mennonites, jointly raised 384.5 million euros in 2005, an increase of 1.1 percent compared to 2004.
The 2 million-member Protestant Church raised 271 million euros from Kerkbalans, offerings and other fundraising efforts, an increase of 1.87 percent compared to the previous year. The 4.4 million-member Roman Catholic Church raised more than 59 million euros from "Kerkbalans", a decrease of about 200 000 euros compared to 2004.
The 2005 campaign coincided with fundraising for the victims of the Asian tsunami but concern that the results would show the first decrease in income since the campaign began more than 30 years ago, proved unfounded.
Still, income reported for both the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches fell short of covering their total expenses.
The Protestant church is due to close its nine regional centres at the end of 2007 and aims to cut 40 percent of its 410 staff positions by 2015. The funds raised by the Roman Catholic Church through "Kerkbalans" were not enough in themselves to cover the costs of maintaining its church buildings, which in 2005 cost 69.9 million euros, or 40 percent of all expenses.
The Protestant church noted in its contribution to the "Kerkbalans" report that smaller congregations often raise more income per member than larger congregations. "The involvement [of church members] often decreases the larger the congregation is. The consequences of this are also visible in the financial developments of the congregations," the denomination's Council for Local Fundraising stated.
Jan-Gerd Heetderks, moderator of the Protestant church's general synod, acknowledged at the presentation of the "Kerkbalans" report on 11 January that making bigger congregations through merging several churches often results in members becoming less involved. "But, on the other hand, he said enlargement offers a small church benefits.
The smaller denominations participating in "Kerkbalans" are the Mennonite Church, the Remonstrant Brotherhood and the Old Catholic Church.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]