Lake Institute on Faith and Giving fosters a deeper understanding of the dynamic relationship between faith and giving through research, education, and public conversation. Horizons Stewardship partnered with Lake Institute to promote their study, Church Giving During Covid-19, that was just released.

Joe Park, CEO of Horizons Stewardship, and Dr. David P. King, Karen Lake Buttrey Director, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving Associate Professor, Philanthropic Studies, recently discussed the findings from the research project and the implication for church leaders and congregations.

Watch the Interview Now 

What You Need to Know

The 555 congregations that took part in this study represent significant diversity across a variety of religious traditions. Key findings are:

  • While overall giving declined 4.4%, almost 6 in 10 churches saw growing (28%) or stable (30%) giving.
  • Giving among mainline churches was better than Evangelical and much better than Catholic churches.
  • Churches with an increase in giving were already focused on online giving, digital communication, and other effective financial growth strategies prior to COVID-19.

Dr. King observed, “While some congregations did see increased giving patterns, those who were experiencing declines were doing so in a material and significant way.” He also added, “of the churches who reported declining giving, most were already struggling financially before the crisis.” Mainline churches had just about an even distribution of churches who saw increased giving, stable giving, and declining giving. In contrast, over 40% of Evangelical and over 60% of Catholic churches in this survey experienced declining giving.

Looking Ahead to 2021

The majority of churches appear to be poised to finish 2020 in a strong financial position because of growing or steady giving, PPP loans (65% reported receiving one), and low operating expenses due to reduced onsite activities. Only 14% of churches reported having laid off staff.

A surprise finding is that not a single church in the survey reported planning to increase their ministry budget during the next fiscal year, in spite of the strong giving many are experiencing in 2020. The posture most churches are taking is to continue to look for ways to reduce operational costs while bracing for an uncertain future. Only 52% of churches are planning to maintain their current budget spending, while 48% plan to reduce ministry spending in 2021.

This crisis has provided a great opportunity for churches to re-envision their futures and to selectively redirect human and financial resources from ministries that are no longer yielding the desired results to those which offer greater impact. Every church should be asking themselves three questions as they evaluate their budgeting process for 2021.

  1. What is essential that we must continue to do?
  2. What must we stop doing?
  3. What changes should we make?

A word of caution. When you tell your story well, reinvesting resources from low to high impact ministry can energize the church and accelerate generosity; but, reducing ministry funding to save money almost always accelerates the decline in giving that caused the need to reduce spending in the first place. A common theme among churches with declining giving is a focus on expense control without placing the needed energy into developing a culture of generosity. I address these issues in a free e-book, Church Ministry Funding Guide: How to Thrive During COVID-19 and Beyond, in Chapter 5 - Aligning Church Budgets with Current Ministry Opportunities.

Next Level Generosity

If you find yourself unsure what to do next, consider a generosity learning session hosted by Horizons Stewardship for your church. Invite your staff, finance committee, and generosity team together for a live, church specific, education-centered focus on the Five Disciplines of Financially Thriving Churches. This presentation is built using your church’s actual data. The result is a learning session in which the five disciplines and their underlining best practices are explained, and your church’s financial performance is illustrated and compared to benchmarks from financially thriving churches.

One of our trained Ministry Strategists will show you what we’ve learned from working with thousands of churches to raise billions of dollars—as well as what we’ve learned during these past few months. After working with Horizons, churches see an average increase of 16% in annual giving. Schedule your learning session today.