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?
COVID-19 Congregational Study
Through a recent survey of congregational leaders across the country, Lake Institute on Faith & 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?
We 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, we surveyed congregations through our network of partners.* While our 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, our 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.
- Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, a slight majority (52 percent) of congregations reported an increase in participation.
- Over the same time, a plurality of congregations (42 percent) reported a decline in giving.
- Congregational giving overall was down 4.4 percent from March to June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. In June, the decline was at 6.0 percent.
- Catholic parishes and small congregations under 50 weekly participants reported declines in participation and giving more often than any other groups.
- In our sample, 65 percent of congregations received Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans. Catholics congregations and larger congregations were much more likely to apply for PPP funds.
- Only 14 percent of all congregations reported reductions, layoffs, or furloughs of staff while 30 percent 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 percent) 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 percent of liberal congregations had similar plans (and 49 percent of moderates).
* 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