American church members, with a large $2,500 annual increase in disposable income over the past two decades, are spending it for such items as microwave popcorn rather than increasing their religious giving, according to a new study.

Authors of the study suggested their findings might prompt church leaders to look at different stewardship strategies."For the first time in history, the majority of people in some societies, including the United States, have discretionary income beyond basic needs," Sylvia Ronsvalle, one of the authors of the study said. "Churches may want to consider being more assertive in competing for a greater share of their members' increased disposable income."

According to the report, the average American had $2,511 more available to spend after taxes and inflation in 1985 than in 1968.

Of that money, however, per member church giving in 31 denominations studied increased an average of $49, just 2 percent of the new disposable income.

The study said that in 1968, members of the 31 denominations gave 3.05 percent of their total per capita disposable income to the church. In 1985, the average was 2.79 percent.