Faith-based organizations see COVID-19 giving decline

Troy Krause
Congregations have missed the opportunity for offering collection with churches closed.

The economic impact of COVID-19 on many areas of life has been significant to say the least.

While many may think of Main Street stores and the food service industry as having felt the brunt of that financial loss, there are other entities that are also experiencing the hit.

Among those are organizations that, for many, have been out of site and out of mind simply because they have not been part of the weekly routine. With people not physically showing up at churches for the past several weeks, giving has dramatically declined. 

Recent polls indicate that 60 percent of churches have seen a decline in the amount being given, and that has all had an impact on church operations.

Contrary to popular belief, all of what is put in the offering plate each week does not only go to “pay the pastor.”

Like businesses, churches have overhead, too. Whether it is paying the utility bill or paying for upkeep, funds that come in are being used for those day-to-day operational expenses.

To meet those needs, a number of congregations began using a different approach - online giving. For many churches, that has made a significant difference.

The good news is that the giving impact has not been as dramatic in rural congregations.

According to Jon Anderson, Southwest Minnesota ELCA Synod bishop, “as a synod, we do not track the giving of our synodical congregations. In our conversations with many leaders we hear that most are doing better than they expected given the need to physically distance and move to an online form of doing church. One consultant we respect says that as you enter times of economic challenges, there will often be a positive bump at the beginning as people seek to support their congregations and live more deeply in their core values. We have had some congregations report stronger giving than last year.

"Congregations share a percentage with the synod and through us the churchwide organization of the ELCA. Our congregation’s giving, because of their people's generosity through March, was 1 percent behind last year. This can also vary because of when Lent and Easter or the number of Sundays in a month. We are thankful for the generosity of our people. At this point we have not heard of many congregations having to reduce positions or take difficult decisions. Congregations are managing the gifts of their people carefully, like our households do."

According to Dan Scarrow, superintendent for the North Central District of The Christian & Missionary Alliance, “I have spoken with most of our 95 churches regularly during this pandemic and generally, they have continued to see financial giving be strong during the COVID season. In one case, a small rural church observed a 40 percent decline in giving during the early weeks of COVID. In the cases where we have observed lessened giving, this has been largely due to the fact that many small rural churches had not embraced online giving and had to scramble to get these systems set up.”

In addition to providing for the financial needs of congregations at the local level, the funding that is given is used to help cover expenses for denominations as well as for other ministries and missions.

“Our church body and synod are dependent, as are our congregations, on the weekly or monthly giving and generosity of people,” explained Anderson. “Most congregations in addition to supporting their larger church (synod and churchwide) also are supporting our Lutheran Camping Ministry, Lutheran Campus Ministry at colleges, local hunger ministries and Lutheran Socials Services of Minnesota. We believe our most important missionaries (sent ones) are all the baptized people in our congregations living out their faith in their daily lives and caring for God's creation. They are all over southwestern Minnesota. They are living in a challenging time with much disruption and many opportunities, too.”

For Scarrow, “churches fundamentally serve their communities by providing environments and resources for emotional health, relational health, spiritual growth and personal development. I am always an advocate for using finances to impact those in your circle of influence, the people/community around us. Having said that, giving is a very personal thing and is often influenced by the burden that God gives us for certain people and causes. I encourage people to give as they feel God is directing.”

“We think the Bible teaches us we have a generous God who has given us everything that we have,” explained Anderson. “In response to God’s love, we get to give to be a part of God's work in the world. The Bible teaches that the state of our heart is important. We are called to be cheerful in our generosity. The tithe is a practice that many people in biblical and present times observe. The Bible is full of stories about people who are generous with their financial assets. “It warns us against letting money take over the center of our hearts.”

- Photo courtesy of the Internet Public Domain