Donations to churches have plummeted amid the lockdowns imposed on American communities to fight the spread of the coronavirus, according to a new survey.
The annual “State of the Plate” survey conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals found that 65 percent of churches polled are reporting a drop in their normal giving since the outbreak began.
Although 8 percent of churches reported an increase in giving, that figure was dwarfed by the number of churches who said giving was down, according to an NAE news release.
Thirty-four percent of the 1,091 churches surveyed between April 8 and April 20 said giving was down between 10 percent and 20 percent-plus since mid-March, while 22 percent said it was down between 30 percent and 50 percent-plus. Nine percent said giving was down 75 percent or more.
Twenty-seven percent, meanwhile, reported giving was steady.
Churches in many communities have been shuttered since mid-March, meaning that the Easter season — usually a time when church attendance spikes — instead became a time of financial drought.
“For pastors and church staff, there will be difficult days ahead as more church families are laid off or experience reduced incomes,” Brian Kluth, director of NAEfinancialhealth.org and national spokesman for the NAE’s “Bless Your Pastor” movement, told The Washington Times.
“We’ve seen nothing like this decline, and never a shift in donations that dramatic,” Kluth added to Newsmax.
Kluth said churches were impacted as shutdowns and lockdowns cost Americans their jobs and ended their church-going habits.
“Major industries were affected, incomes were down, and there has been a major economic aftershock,” he said. “And that has meant that the budgets of churches have declined and payrolls of churches have declined.”
The decline is far worse than the dip in giving that came as a result of the 2008 economic recession, Kluth added.
“This is much worse than the [Great] Recession was,” he told The Times. “This is more across the board and deeper.”
Church leaders across the nation appear to agree.
“We had to let our organist go. We had to let our janitor go and then, of course, I’m at home. I’m not getting paid,” Pastor Allan Boyer of the First Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Paterson, New Jersey, told WCBS. He said donations are down almost 50 percent.
Matt Goodsell, pastor of Ashland Baptist Church in Boone County, Missouri, said the church is surviving, but not doing much more.
The church’s financial manager “told me we have been staying above water. What’s been coming in has just been enough to sustain what’s going out,” Goodsell told The Times. “But, of course, we’re aren’t doing the ministry we normally do, either.”
Rev. Rickey Scott, pastor of East St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church near Oxford, Mississippi, voiced his frustration with the situation.
“It’s like a father who can’t do for their child. Like if God sent Jesus to Earth but couldn’t do nothing for him. There’s nothing I can do, and that’s one of the worst things a father can say to a child,” he told The Washington Post, adding that with the church having suffered a 65 percent funding drop, he has cut all staff.
Although he streams services, he knows that in a region of low connectivity and with a congregation not attuned to technology, few receive his message.
“I see my psychological effect like that of the Apostle Paul when he was in prison, to the Philippians,” he said. “I feel I’m in spiritual solitary confinement. For the sake of Jesus Christ, I have to endure this suffering.”
“I made a commitment to God, to my people. We’ve been teaching and preaching faith. Anyone can be a leader, but if you’re a faith leader, what do we do?” he told The Post. “Do we fold, or do we become a living example of what we’ve preached for so many years?”
The survey said that churches have largely successfully transitioned to online services, reporting that such services were attracting between two and five times the numbers of viewers they had prior to the virus’ interruption of life.
Kluth said that trend could remain even after restrictions have eased.
The poll was “organized by Kluth with the participation of organizations such as Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax and NAE Financial Health,” according to the NAE news release. It surveyed churches from all 50 states.
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