Charitable giving in the United States reached a record $39.56 billion in 1978, with churches and synagogues continuing to receive the largest single share - $18.4 billion or 46.5 percent.

The other major beneficiaries for the 1978 contributions, according to the 1979 annual report of Giving USA, published by the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel Inc.: education, $5.52 billion; health and hospitals, $5.45 billion; social welfare, $3.99 billion; arts and humanities, $2.49 billion; civic and public, $1.14 billion, and other $2.57 billion.

Total giving in the U.S. increased by 9.4 percent last year, slightly more than the rate of inflation, according to Giving USA researchers.

Giving to religion increased by about $1.7 billion over the $16.7 billion adjusted total for 1977. For purposes of the annual report, Giving USA includes in its religion category only direct donations to churches and synagogues. Giving to religious institutions such as schools and hospitals fall in other categories.

The 9.4 percent increase in giving last year over the previous year met cost-of-living increases but fell short of the 11 percent annual growth rate needed to enable charities to maintain their program levels.

As in other years, the bulk of the 1978 contributions came from living individuals. They provided $32.8 billion or 82.9 percent of the total. Bequests totaled $2.6 billion, foundations contributed $2.16 billion, and corporations, $2 billion. CAPTION: Graph, 1978 Contributions to Charity By Robin Jareaux - The Washington Post