PPP kept 75% of churches, Christian organizations that took loans fully staffed: survey

People worship at Harvest Christian Fellowship, June 2020.
People worship at Harvest Christian Fellowship, June 2020. | Facebook/Harvest Christian Fellowship

Some 75% of Christian churches and organizations that applied for and received forgivable loans under the federal government’s coronavirus relief program for small businesses, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, say the loans helped keep their operations fully staffed and many of them have already been forgiven.

A recent survey by Vanderbloeman citing data collected over several months from 900 churches and Christian organizations reveals how crucial the relief program has 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.

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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.

A recent report highlighted that churches of all denominations received an estimated $6 to $10 billion of the $659 billion that funded the PPP over two rounds under the CARES Act.

The U.S. Catholic Church reportedly received at least $1.4 billion in funding and possibly as much as $3.5 billion, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. An analysis by Ministry Watch, estimated that churches and other religious nonprofits as a whole received between $6 and $10 billion.

More than 400 evangelical ministries and churches were identified as each receiving at least $1 million in PPP funds while seven each received $5-10 million.

Recipients of multi-million dollar forgivable loans included First Baptist Church of Dallas, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, and the headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Despite the aid accessed by churches through the PPP, The Christian Post recently reported that as many as one in five churches could permanently close as a result of shutdowns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

David Kinnaman, president of the prominent Christian research organization Barna Group, explained that although churches were handling things “pretty swimmingly” at the beginning of the pandemic, circumstances have changed for some.

“They’re recognizing that the relationships that they thought were much deeper with people were actually not as deep as they expected,” Kinnaman told NPR.

Smaller churches in low-income urban areas, meanwhile, have been helped with $3,000 grants through the Churches Helping Churches Challenge. Faith organizations helped raise over $1.2 million to distribute to at-risk churches during the pandemic. The initiative is also providing $5,000 grants to help churches continue community service projects.

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