The median attendance of a church in 2023 is 60, down from 65 in 2020. That’s the bad news.
But giving is up. That is the good news. Giving in congregation jumped significantly, from a median of about $120,000 in 2020 to $170,000 in 2023. That is an increase of 42% over the past three years.
Thanks to the excellent ongoing research by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, we are able to see post-pandemic trends over a five-year period.
In the midst of significant challenging news for churches, the level of giving remains remarkable. What is taking place? How is giving increasing while attendance continues to decline? As we work with churches across America, we see four compelling reasons.
1. Online giving is the most significant reason for increased revenue in churches. The Hartford study found that the greater the usage of online giving, the higher the receipts will be in churches. It makes sense, particularly if the online giving is schedule giving, where the church member does not need reminders to give. When most churches were closed for a period during the pandemic, they were compelled to offer online giving. This issue may prove to be one of the longest-standing benefits of the pandemic for churches.
2. Churches and church members have received significant government funding. Many churches received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Employee Retention Credit (ERC). Many individuals received both direct government funding and tax credits as well. Consequently, they were able to give more to their respective churches. Most of this funding is or will be ending soon.
3. Postponed capital projects began after the pandemic. A number of congregations planned to build or renovate facilities, but the plans were delayed by the pandemic. As the churches restart these building projects, church members are giving to fund them. Most of these building funds are new sources of income for churches.
4. The committed core of the church has increased its giving. We conduct hundreds of interviews in the process of church consultations. A common theme from the most committed church members is their desire to help their churches financially in these times of obvious need. Many of these members see fewer attendees every Sunday, so they are compelled to give more to fund the ministries of the churches.
Giving is up. That is the good news. But attendance is down. That is the bad news.
In upcoming articles, we will dig more deeply into the reasons why one-third of churches are growing and defying the negative trends of church decline. These congregations provide us with both guidance and hope. But one of the greatest challenges is that church members are becoming more resistant to change. For a season after churches regathered, church members were very open to change. Now that window of opportunity has closed.
I will have more to say about these issues later.
Posted on September 18, 2023
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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