How are congregations being affected by COVID-19?

Church and finance |

Findings of September 2020 Lake Institute on Faith and Giving study offer a snapshot

Almost all U.S. congregations ceased in-person religious services in mid-March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet for the vast majority of these faith communities, their work and religious services continued online in the midst of significant uncertainty. How have congregations responded in these unprecedented times?

Through a recent survey of congregational leaders across the country, Lake Institute on Faith and Giving asked congregations about their finances: How have congregations encouraged giving and managed their resources in the midst of the pandemic? How are they looking to the future in terms of giving trends, budget planning, and reopening for in-person services?

They sought to gather data from congregations on several key questions:
  • What are the congregational trends in participation and giving during the current pandemic?
  • With increasing uncertainty around financial support, how have congregations responded?
  • What are congregations expecting over the next year for their organizational or financial future?
  • As many congregations have reopened or are making plans to do so in the future, what are the key considerations informing their decisions?

During July 2020, Lake Institute surveyed congregations through their network of partners (including Everence®).* While their sample of 555 congregations represents significant diversity across the variety of religious traditions in the U.S., it is not a randomized or representative sample. However, their findings offer a snapshot of what congregations have experienced and what they are expecting as a result of the multiple pandemics in our country since March 2020.

Key findings

  • Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, a slight majority (52%) of congregations reported an increase in participation.
  • Over the same time, a plurality of congregations (42%) reported a decline in giving.
  • Congregational giving overall was down 4.4% from March to June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. In June, the decline was at 6.0%.
  • Catholic parishes and small congregations under 50 weekly participants reported declines in participation and giving more often than any other groups.
  • In Lake Institute's sample, 65% of congregations received Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans. Catholics congregations and larger congregations were much more likely to apply for PPP funds.
  • Only 14% of all congregations reported reductions, layoffs or furloughs of staff while 30% of congregations raised funds to support other congregations and nonprofits in need.
  • While most congregations are planning to move forward without significant budget cuts, not a single congregation expects to increase next year’s budget. The majority (52%) of congregations hope to maintain their current budgets over the next year.
  • Re-opening for in-person services appears to be driven more by congregations’ political orientation than public health. Seventy-one percent of conservative congregations planned to reopen by August, while only 20% of liberal congregations had similar plans (and 49% of moderates).

Read the full report.

About the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving

Based in Indianapolis, the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving is a small but weighty institute nestled within the Indiana University regional campus that offers authoritative education and counsel to churches. Everence partners with the Lake Institute to teach churches about the latest research on congregational giving. This article is adapted from its original, published by Lake Institute on Sept. 15, 2020.

*Lake Institute on Faith and Giving would like to thank our network of many partners for their contributions to this survey: Faith and Communities Today (FACT), Christianity Today’s Church Law and Tax, Center for Healthy Churches, The Church Network, Alban at Duke Divinity School, Faith & Leadership, Givelify, Wesley Seminary’s Lewis Center for Church Leadership, Luther Seminary’s Center for Stewardship Leaders, Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Foundation, Ecumenical Stewardship Center, Texas Methodist Foundation, Horizons Stewardship, Christian Stewardship Network, Villanova University’s Center for Church Management , Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability (ECFA), Macedonian Ministries, Association of Theological Schools (ATS), In Trust, Ruderman Family Foundation’s Synagogue Inclusion Project, Muslim Philanthropy Initiative, Pneumatrix, Everence, Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP), Reformed Church in America, as well as multiple partners within Lilly Endowment’s Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders (ECCFPL) Initiative

Author

Lake Institute on Faith and Giving

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