Despite COVID-19, evangelical churches are optimistic about financial future: report

Unsplash/Hannah Busing
Unsplash/Hannah Busing

A majority of evangelical churches and Christ-centered nonprofits remain optimistic about their financial future despite the toll of the coronavirus pandemic on their operations in recent months, according to a recent report from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

InOptimism Outweighs Uncertainty: COVID-19 Financial Impact Report for Churches and Other Nonprofitspublished in June, the ECFA shares responses to a series of questions from a sample of 1,341 churches and nonprofits about how 2019 ended for them financially as well as their outlook for 2020.

The survey was conducted from Jan. 19 to Feb. 17 before the outbreak of the coronavirus and again from May 12 to May 27.

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When he compared the responses, from 684 churches and 657 nonprofits, Warren Bird, ECFA’s vice president of research and equipping, said he was surprised by what he found.

“The survey targeted leaders of evangelical churches and of other Christ-centered nonprofits. To our surprise, the optimism documented in January is already beginning to return. Rough and uncertain waters are still ahead for some, particularly summer camps, schools, short-term missions, and other ministries involving near-term travel and large in-person gatherings. Yet the responses in this report indicate the impact of the pandemic to date is reasonably manageable,” Bird wrote.

When asked about their outlook for cash donations for May to July, more than half of the churches and ministries (58%) said they were optimistic. Some 27% were uncertain about the future while 15% were pessimistic.

Comparing April 2020 to January 2020, 47% of the churches said recent cash giving to their operations was the same or higher while 25% said giving was about the same. Some 28% of churches reported a drop in giving ranging between 20% and 40%.

Most surveyed churches and ministries (59%) also reported that they applied for the Paycheck Protection Program.

The largest churches and nonprofits, which also had bigger annual budgets, were the least likely to have applied for the Paycheck Protection Program. Just 8% of churches with budgets over $10 million had applied for the PPP at the time of the poll while 33% of those with budgets under $500,000 had applied, the survey found.

A recent survey by Vanderbloeman, citing data collected over several months from 900 churches and Christian organizations, revealed how crucial the federal government’s PPP had been for the survival of Christian operations.

The survey found that 76.09% of the churches in the survey had service attendance below 1,000 while 58.85% attracted less than 500. A majority of the churches (74%) also had annual budgets of less than $2 million.

More than half of the Christian churches and organizations (61%) received less than $150,000 and 85% of them received less than $349,000.

“The government hoped that the economic impact of COVID-19 would be temporary and wanted to improve job stability by enabling organizations to continue paying their employees, rather than having the government pay for unemployment,” Vanderbloemen reported. “This definitely worked out for everyone involved. With very little turnover in Christian organizations, they were able to maintain staff and continue to help their communities during a time of crisis.”

Under the PPP, which closed on Aug. 8, as long as a church employed 500 people or fewer, it could request a federal loan for an amount 2.5 times its average monthly payroll. The loans, along with a 1% interest, would be forgiven by the government as long as 75% of the funds are used to cover payroll expenses in the eight weeks after the house of worship receives the funds. The remaining 25% can be spent on rent, utilities, insurance and other operating costs.

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