Clergy are considering how to care for the sick and dying when they cannot meet face to face as hospitals and funerals are restricted to a few family members. And they are searching for ways to provide for those in need in their community – with food, shelter, healthcare, social and spiritual connection during these times.
Leaders, it is ok to be honest and admit that we do not have any answers for this. It is also ok to admit the vulnerability we feel ourselves, for our communities, and for our organizations.
For many, it is finances that keep us up at night. Like so many nonprofits, many congregations will face significant financial struggles. Congregations rely heavily on in-person contributions from individuals attending services that have been canceled (or moved online) as their communities shelter in place, and while there are a variety of ways to give, online and otherwise, all congregations were not prepared for a complete shift overnight. Our NSCEP discovered only 46% of congregations had some type of online giving set up before the Covid-19 crisis. And there are clear digital divides with lower percentages among black churches (31%), rural congregations (36%), and congregations with less than 100 participants (31%).
Of course, it’s not only setting up alternative ways to receive financial gifts, but as Meredith notes, asking members to prioritize giving when so many are facing unemployment or financial uncertainty may not be the right decision. Many congregations will also have to turn to savings or reserves to weather the storm, and NSCEP notes that 61% of congregations have enough money in the bank to cover three months’ worth of expenses, but that leaves over a third who do not. Just like the disparities in public health and economic resources in many local communities, COVID-19’s impact on congregations is also not equally distributed. Some congregations are much more vulnerable than others.
Yet, if our honesty allows us to admit our vulnerability at this moment, it might equally serve to identify our hidden strengths. Perhaps it forces us with piercing clarity to recognize what we are called to, and we can be surprised by what we discover.
Congregations are vulnerable, yes, but they are also resilient. They can adapt, persevere, and come together with the grit that we all hope defines our kids and communities in these unforeseen times. This global pandemic may be a physical, spiritual, and financial crisis for many congregations, yet I believe religious communities and their leaders are creative and innovative. They are up to the task of leading their communities and congregations through uncharted waters in matters of both faith and finances as they lead with honesty, vulnerability, and resilience.