Churches push online giving as donations drop due to reduced numbers in pews: study

Photo: Getty Images/ColorBlind
Photo: Getty Images/ColorBlind

Churches across all denominations are now increasingly turning to online giving as a majority of them report reduced giving in the pews amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Ministry Brands.

The trend was highlighted in results from an online survey of 1,400 church leaders conducted by Ministry Brands, a provider of software, services, and information platforms for churches and ministries, from July to September and published Wednesday in the report Coping with COVID-19: Insights from Church Leaders.

“Overall, almost 60 percent of respondents indicated that a reduction in giving income is one of the top challenges facing their church. This was particularly noticeable among Catholic churches, a full 67 percent of which expressed concern about reduced giving,” said the report which attributed the reduced giving to fewer in-person services.

Churches are now ramping up their ability to collect donations online and congregations that never offered this option before must now help their members adjust to the virtual offering plate.

“Churches and parishes with robust online giving options established before the pandemic have had the greatest success in inspiring their members to continue and even increase their giving. But many churches are now using online giving for the first time and must confront the need to help members better understand the importance of making online and recurring gifts,” the report said.

The survey found that across all denominations, 74% of responding churches reported holding some combination of online services and in-person, socially distanced gatherings. Some 83% of Catholic parishes reported offering in-person and online services, while 64% of Protestant churches said they offered both forms of worship.

As COVID-19 guidelines allow for increased capacity in church facilities, a majority of leaders (57%) said they were also struggling to find options for coronavirus contact tracing and communications as well. Some 80% reported using social media to engage with their members.

As services continue and capacity levels increase based on state and local guidelines, churches are also exploring options for COVID-19 contact tracing and communications. Overall, 57% of respondents selected this as a challenge facing their church.

Social media is also now a widely accepted and utilized engagement resource for all denominations, with 80 percent of respondents highlighting Facebook or other channels as a significant way to build engagement with members.

Despite this financial uncertainty sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, churches, according to the report, have continued to show “resilience and determination.”

“Overall, 85 percent of survey respondents indicated that their churches have not been forced to make reductions in church staff, while 88 percent reported that they have not had to downgrade or cancel technology and software subscriptions as a result of financial challenges,” the report said.

"This new research shows that church leaders remain understandably concerned about the financial and operational impact of COVID-19," Pat O'Donnell, managing director of Ministry Brands, noted in a statement. "But we're also seeing parishes rise to the challenge by maintaining services in line with local restrictions and increasing digital communications."

Earlier this month, the Seventh-day Adventist Church said it was in “survival” mode financially as it estimated a $26 million decline in tithe and mission offerings from their more than 21 million members around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“According to reports received from division treasurers, the decrease in tithe income could be estimated as low as 5 percent and as high as 25 percent in some places, and the decrease in mission offerings as low as 10 percent and as high as 40 percent,” world church Treasurer Juan Prestol-Puesán said during his Oct. 8 financial update to the members of the General Conference Executive Committee.

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