The (Near) Future of Church Giving: 6 Things We Learned from COVID-19

The (Near) Future of Church Giving: 6 Things We Learned from COVID-19
by

Jesse Wisnewski

Coronavirus (COVID-19) changed church giving

Over the past several months, every church in the United States has been forced to adapt their church finances. From addressing a decrease in giving to focusing on new methods of receiving donations, COVID-19 has presented churches with several different financial challenges.  

And the changes caused by COVID-19 haven’t stopped.

With a surge of new COVID cases, since many business industries are still recovering and struggling to survive, and with changes in consumer behavior, churches will face a new set of threats. 

In this post, we’re going to explore these changes in particular:

  • 3 ways COVID-19 changed church giving
  • Why your church needs to keep an eye on the fall season
  • 2 ways your church can embrace these changes

Let’s dig in!

1. Church giving followed social distancing and economic trends

Since March 2020, church giving in the U.S. closely mirrored the spread of COVID-19. 

Based on different surveys, many churches experienced a decrease in giving in March. 

In March, surveys of pastors in the U.S. revealed a decline in giving. A poll released from The State of the Plate in late April 2020 revealed 65% of pastors in the U.S. experienced a decline in giving since mid-March. According to a poll conducted by LifeWay, 52% of pastors said giving had decreased compared to earlier this year. 

This initial decrease in church giving comes as no surprise for three big reasons: 

  1. Church bodies were not able to meet in-person
  2. Unemployment rates skyrocketed in March
  3. Consumer confidence decreased in general

It comes as no surprise that when your church doesn’t gather in person or your church community faces unemployment, giving to your church will decrease. When it comes to consumer confidence, many in March—and still today—were concerned about what would happen with the economy, so they chose not to spend or donate as much as before. 

Thankfully, this downward trend not only stopped—it reversed in April. 

In a recent survey conducted by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), many church leaders surveyed (59%), said giving in April 2020 surpassed giving levels in April 2019. In addition, most church leaders (72%) said their April 2020 giving levels exceeded their giving in January 2020. Needless to say, this is a near 180-degree change from what church leaders expressed in March. 

There are a few ways we can understand this significant change in church giving. 

For starters, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law on March 27, 2020. One part of this act led to issuing stimulus checks to numerous U.S. citizens and residents, which provided much needed financial assistance. 

In addition, there is anecdotal evidence that suggests many people not directly affected financially by COVID-19 donated more money than before to help their church financially. 

What is more, different business sectors initially throttled by the spread of COVID-19, re-opened and many people were able to get back to work. When businesses are open and people are working and purchasing things, this pours money into the economy, which places people—your church members and supporters—in a better position to donate. 

As we look back on how COVID-19 changed church giving, what can your church expect in the near future? 

We’ll dig into that in a bit, so hang tight. 

But first, let’s look at a couple more changes we’re seeing in regards to church giving.

2. Church giving went digital—and fast

Because churches in the U.S. had to close their doors and even now are required to limit in-person gatherings as they re-open, church giving had to go digital—and fast. 

Here’s why: 

Based on our church giving statistics, Sunday is the biggest single day of the week when people donate. What is more, David King, the director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, said that 78% of all church giving comes through a church’s worship service. 

So what happens when people don’t gather in-person for worship services? 

Based on the numbers we just read above, when church members don’t gather in-person, a decrease in giving occurs—especially if your church is not prepared to receive donations online. 

In many ways, this is similar to what regularly happens too many churches in the U.S. during the summer. In the summer months, there’s typically a decrease in worship attendance, which leads many churches to experience a summer giving slump (this is especially true for churches who are not adept at utilizing online and mobile giving). 

The rapid transition to no longer meeting in-person affected churches in the U.S. differently. 

Here are three observations we’ve seen:

First, churches who did not already offer mobile and online giving had to quickly adapt to do so. 

Second, churches who offered digital giving, but didn’t make it a priority, had to quickly find ways to make it work for their church.

Third, churches who offered digital giving and had already made it a priority were in a better position to make the transition to online giving. Surveys and data suggests that churches in this category fared significantly better than churches who did not. 

Don’t feel alarmed if your church recently started offering digital giving or if you’re still trying to figure out how to make it work for your church. You still have plenty of time to make changes, and we’ll look at those below. 

Before getting into those details, let’s take a look at one last trend in church giving.

3. COVID-19 accelerated online and mobile giving

COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of online and mobile giving in two ways. 

First, COVID-19 expedited churches’ emphasis on digital giving. 

As COVID-19 spread and churches were required to cease meeting in-person, they had to focus on mobile and online giving since they could not rely on receiving donations during their physical gatherings. In light of this new emphasis on digital giving, churches experienced the multifaceted benefits mobile and online giving provides, which has led to an appreciation of this technology. Moving forward, churches new to or now focused on digital giving will continue  this momentum for the foreseeable future. 

Second, the presence of COVID has propelled the move toward digital giving. 

Before COVID-19, there was a growing trend among people toward making digital donations. This is likely because people in the U.S. continue to primarily use debit and credit cards for transactions and use the Internet (computer, tablet, or mobile) for banking and shopping. In light of the presence of COVID-19, this trend in the usage of debit/credit cards and touchless payments led to an increase in digital giving for churches and people’s willingness to use digital giving in the future. 

What we just covered are three observable trends in church giving in light of COVID-19. 

But where does that leave us? 

What are the signs pointing toward for the near future? 

Let’s consider one observation and a few practical takeaways. 

Why your church needs to keep an eye on the fall season

From previous surveys, we observed how church giving closely followed trends tied to COVID-19. After experiencing an initial decline in giving from not being able to meet in-person and high unemployment rates, the giving in most churches experienced an increase in giving as the economy slowly rebounded and through the government’s support. 

Moving forward, as government support expires, consumer confidence continues to ebb and flow, and keeping in mind the time it’ll take for many industries to recover (e.g., restaurants, hospitality), there’s a likelihood church giving will decrease in upcoming months. 

The significance of this decrease will mirror the response of the government (federal, state, and local) and businesses. For instance, if businesses are required to close their doors to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, then this will lead to unemployment, which will directly affect giving. With that knowledge we also know this will be case-by-case in the sense that different towns, cities, and states will have different experiences in relationship to COVID. 

With that in mind, here are a few ideas to consider.

2 ways your church can embrace these changes

#1. Build your savings

Jesus is building his church.

He is working through churches in the U.S. and around the world in new and profound ways. 

From battling illness, unemployment, and mental-health issues, people in your community are facing a variety of struggles. So now is not the time to retreat. Now is the time to reach out to your community, share the gospel, and help those in need. 

Keep that in mind as I share this next point:

Depending on your church’s financial situation, consider building up your savings.

If your church’s giving has recently increased, consider setting aside additional money for the fall and winter months. Again, take this advice with a grain of salt. Take a look at your church’s finances. Keep a prayerful eye to the near future. And consider how you can save additional money in case there is a potential decrease in giving in the upcoming months. 

#2. Focus on digital giving 

For your church, it’s essential to make digital giving a priority since this will be the preferred and primary way your church community will give for the foreseeable future. 

Frank Barry, COO of Tithe.ly, says, “Every church has to become really good with teaching people how to give online.” He adds, “And the digital giving experience has to be as easy as passing the plate.” 

As you read this, don’t feel overwhelmed. 

We’re not talking about using smoke machines or running a complicated communications strategy. After working with tens of thousands of churches, here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Get buy-in from your church staff
  • Migrate and grow your recurring givers
  • Teach about generosity and tithing 
  • Just show people how to donate

By focusing on these four key areas, you church will be able to quickly adapt to the accelerated changes in giving. Nailing these four principles is what has led many churches we’ve worked with to increase giving 165%.

We say this not because we offer online and mobile giving. 

We encourage this for every church, regardless of whether or not you use our services. 

Making it easy for your church to donate online will be vital for your church’s financial well-being. 

Over to you

It’s impossible to know for certain how giving in your church will look in the fall. 

Keep your eyes on national trends, but pay closer attention to your community and track giving trends in your church. Measuring your church’s numbers will put you in a better position to manage your church’s finances. 

 Coronavirus tool kit for pastors and church leaders:


Blog

The (Near) Future of Church Giving: 6 Things We Learned from COVID-19

No items found.