The United Methodist Church saw a steep decline in giving during the month of April, largely because churches were forced by state and local governments to shut down in response to the new coronavirus.
At the end of May, the UMC General Council on Finance and Administration held an online meeting to discuss the drop in giving after large numbers of UMC congregations were closed.
Collections for the month of April were down 26% compared to the same time last year, as well as being 45% lower than 2017, according to the GCFA report.
“This indicates the impact that the coronavirus has had so far on general church collections,” Rick King, GCFA’s chief financial officer, told the board, according to the United Methodist News Service.
“In March, we saw a little bit of decline compared to prior years. It was really felt in the Western Jurisdiction, where the epidemic started in the U.S. on the west coast,” he added.
Another factor given for the drop in giving was the denomination's ongoing debate over LGBT issues, specifically whether the UMC should continue to adhere to the belief that homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching."
In February 2019, a special session of General Conference reaffirmed the present traditional stance, prompting many liberals within the denomination to withhold giving.
As part of an effort to encourage donations to local congregations within the denomination, the UMC launched a social media campaign known as #IGiveUMC.
“This new campaign inspires United Methodists, and others, to make donations to local United Methodist churches in honor/memory of someone who’s made a difference to them,” explained the website ResourceUMC.org.
“Then, donors will post on social media about their honoree and their gift, along with a request for others to make a donation of their own.”
During the online meeting, Sharon Dean of GCFA reported that the campaign had reached 425,000 people via online ads and 624,000 people via social media.
“We are mindful that people are losing jobs,” said Dean, according to UMNS. “But in places where people are still working and want to support their local church, we created a campaign to communicate the need and the thankfulness we have for people who continue to give.”
Churches and Christian ministries have been hit hard due to the loss of over 30 million U.S. jobs due to state-imposed shutdowns of businesses.
In late April, LifeWay Christian Resources announced that it was enacting temporary budget cuts and staff reductions due to a drop in sales that began in March.
“LifeWay stands to lose tens of millions of dollars of revenue that the organization would normally generate over the summer months from camps, events, VBS and ongoing curriculum sales,” said LifeWay CEO Ben Mandrell in a statement at the time.
“LifeWay is mitigating these losses as much as possible through various expense reduction plans, including staff reductions and cuts in non-employee expenses. Additionally, LifeWay will likely have to use money from its reserves to cover a portion of the lost revenue.”
The AND Campaign and other ministries have sought to help congregations facing permanent closure due to the financial impact of coronavirus shutdowns.
They created a Coronavirus At-Risk Church Relief Fund that gives $3,000 grants to small churches at risk of closing within the next three months due to a drop in donations.
The challenge raised approximately $431,000 from 471 donors over the course of April and identified 125 congregations for grants, eventually extending the fund into May.