Barna Group conducted online surveys among Protestant senior pastors between March 20 -Sept. 28, 2020. Most notable in the findings was that church leaders should remain adaptable in lean times. While many churches are surviving financially, the pandemic is throwing off leaders’ plans for the future.
“In a normal year,” says David Kinnaman, Barna president, “people think about planning for the new year around September or earlier. Now, however, pastors tend to be pushing that back to November or later.” In fact, 14% of pastors say they’re not even sure when they’re going to plan.
Following is a summary of some of Barna’s findings:
- 17% of churches are experiencing a higher than normal giving level.
- 56% of churches are about the same as pre-COVID giving.
- 28% have seen a decline in giving.
- 43% are experiencing an income that exceeds expenses.
- 8% (1 in 12 churches) are not meeting expenses.
Summary: Those churches that were doing OK before COVID are doing OK now. Those that were struggling before are in worse shape today.
Spiritual and emotional well-being
The overall well-being of pastors is based in part on whether they are extroverted or introverted. Introverts don’t mind time away from people, while extroverts are really missing social interaction and being with people in general.
- Pastors, in general, are very weary. It has taken a lot of energy to adapt to being a virtually connected church.
- Moving forward, many churches will need to find new revenue streams to support their ministries. The new gig economy (social entrepreneurship) will need to become part of many churches’ sustainability models.
- How much money should churches hold in reserve? Prior to COVID, one to three months was a general recommendation. Now the norm will be four to six months, depending on the size and nature of the congregation’s budget and ministry.
- Many churches have delayed their planning and goal setting for 2021, given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Planning is more quarter by quarter vs. a year in advance.
A 45-minute webinar and related article, from which some of this data was gleaned, is available at Financial Health in the Church.
Lake Institute findings
Some of these same projections were brought forward in a recent Lake Institute on Faith and Giving survey, published in September.
In that study, 555 congregations responded, representing significant diversity across the variety of religious traditions in the U.S. Here’s what they discovered:
- Small congregations (under 50 weekly attenders) reported declines in participation and giving more often than any other groups.
- 65% of congregations received Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans. 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.
For more on this report, go to COVID-19 Congregational Study.
Jim Sheppard from Barna Institute shared that, “The tectonic plates have been shifting underneath the (North American) church for years. I think we’ve had this sense that the spiritual level of our people is not as deep as it should be. We now know that – COVID has exposed that.” Instead of seeking a return to a pre-pandemic normal, churches must look to a future informed by the lessons learned during this year of disruption.
How We Can Help
The Brethren Church has a formal partnership with Everence Financial, an anabaptist, not-for-profit financial services organization. Everence's mission is to serve the church, and their team is passionate about helping churches and pastors find financial freedom and health.
Our regional teams can connect you with a stewardship consultant, who will work hand in hand with your church leadership to move ahead in stewardship, even in these trying times. Help with church budgeting, faith-oriented financial counseling for members, educations, assistance, grants and more. We want to help!