Emerging from the pandemic, most churches appear to be rebounding financially, Lifeway Research reported.
After churches faced budget shortfalls and decreased giving in 2020, 70% of pastors say that offering levels have met their budget this year. Similarly, 70% also report that giving levels in 2021 have so far matched or exceeded 2020 receipts.
“We see great improvement in the number of churches with a downward trend in giving,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.
Still, about 1 in 14 churches (7%) say giving decreased by 25% or more since 2020.
“Churches where the financial news is bad, it tends to be really bad,” McConnell said. “Among churches with offerings below 2020, the declines are typically steep, double-digit declines in year-over-year giving. These churches are having to radically rethink their ministry.”
With today’s uncertain economy, around half of U.S. Protestant pastors say the current economy isn’t really having an impact on their congregation, according to the study. Nearly two in five pastors (37%) say the economy is negatively impacting their congregation, and 12% say the economy is having a positive impact.
In September 2020, 48% said the economy was hurting their congregation, and 15% said it was helping.
“Most churches are taking a deep breath financially following the uncertainty of the height of the pandemic,” McConnell said. “While the official recession ended quickly in April 2020, economic growth has been uneven, and few churches are feeling actual positive impacts from the economy at this point.”
Some pastors, particularly in African American contexts, continue to struggle with the economic fallout from the pandemic.
African American pastors are more likely than white pastors to say their giving in 2021 was lower than budgeted (43% to 25%) and are much more likely to say their offering was down by 25% or more (21% to 6%). Also, African American pastors are less likely than their white counterparts to say the economy is a neutral factor for their church (39% to 51%).
Further, mainline Protestant churches are financially rebounding slower than evangelical churches. More mainline pastors, compared to evangelical pastors, say their 2021 giving has been lower than expected (32% to 24%) and that giving is below 2020 levels (26% to 20%).
One possible reason for the slower financial recovery for African American and mainline churches is that they were slower to resume in-person worship services during the pandemic. “This reduced face-to-face contact appears to have impacted giving in these churches,” McConnell said.