Last week we took a look at what I think every church leader should be asking about church attendance during the COVID-19 crisis. This week, let's shift to what you should be looking at in regards to generosity, budgeting and giving during this time.
According to the newest Church Pulse Weekly Poll released from Barna for the week of April 6-13, 43% of churches say that giving is down, 35% say it is about the same, and 22% say giving has increased in the past month.
So far, it seems (from this study and from what I'm hearing from church leaders), churches seem to be doing relatively well during the first month of this crisis. But what should all church leaders be asking as we continue into this second month of church service shutdown and uncertainty?
QUESTION 1: What trends have I seen in my church's giving over the past month?
This is, of course, where most everyone should start. As leaders, we need to know what is happening and try to project what will happen, and it is essential to have a real grasp of how this time is affecting your church financially.
- What was your baseline giving on a regular weekend (either for January/February of this year or for the same period last year)
- What has your weekly giving been since you haven't had in-person services?
- Where is your giving coming from (online giving? mailed-in checks? individual one-time significant donations), and how does this compare to pre-crisis giving?
QUESTION 2: How has our spending changed so far during this time?
Chances are, you are already saving some money on utilities and other expenses since you are not meeting in person and taking full advantage of your facilities. But there are possibly other areas of spending that have gone up. As a leader, you need to know how you're doing. Any reductions in giving can be offset by decreases in spending. But you have to have all the numbers available to make the comparison.
If you don’t have that information from your financial person, request it right now.
QUESTION 3: What if our church can't meet physically for another four weeks? Eight weeks? Four months? Eight months?
Most of the projections that I'm reading in the past week are favoring a 'phased-in' approach to re-opening the country. This includes opening some businesses as soon as May 1 to get some people back to work and open up specific segments of the economy. Every scenario that I've read also says that social distancing will need to be kept a high priority even after some businesses and offices are opened.
This means some restaurants may open, but at very limited occupancy. Some sporting events, over time, will resume, but not to sold-out capacities.
And if I'm reading this right, the need for social distancing may very well see either federal or state officials continuing to limit the gathering size of people for some time to come. In fact, some are saying that many of the 'stay six feet away from others' and similar rules may not be able to be fully lifted until a vaccine is developed. Folks, that is over a year away.
This may or may not happen. No one knows.
But if you're banking on the fact that your church will be able to resume in-person services on May 3, you will probably be very disappointed.
Great leaders are asking long-term questions like what I've stated in question 3. No one knows how long this will last, but we all need to be prepared.
QUESTION 4: What if people don't return quickly when in-person services are restored?
I've heard two different scenarios. The first is that people will flock to churches in masses when they are allowed to meet again. The other is that many churches will never recover many lost members who have become disengaged and disinterested during the in-person service shut down.
I don't think either will be the case.
But I do think that there will be a couple of different groups of people that you need to consider:
- The people that actually enjoy and PREFER online church. I've seen so many Facebook posts of people snuggling up with their dog, their blanket, and a cup of coffee and saying how much they are enjoying watching church from the comfort of their own home. Some of these people will probably continue with this option when this is all said and done... maybe not every week, but once or twice a month.
- The people that will be slow to enter a big room with lots of people for a while. Handshaking is probably gone from our culture. And for the time being, meeting closely with people makes a lot of people nervous. Expect this to continue at least to some degree well after the 'stay at home' and social distancing rules have been relaxed.
Leaders need to be prepared that the return of in-person attendance numbers may seem a trickle at first rather than a floodgate.
QUESTION 5: How badly has our church been affected by layoffs?
According to where your church is in the country and the economic makeup of your congregation, your church could either do better than average (or worse) as compared to the economy as a whole.
What if (by some projections) 1 in 3 people in your church are laid off or furloughed during the next months?
As a leader, consider that your people will continue along the same lines of generosity as they have in the past, but the resources from which for them to be generous may be drastically less than what you're used to. This will ultimately affect your offerings and church budget.
QUESTION 6: How badly has our community been affected by the timing of this virus?
Some areas of the country were not all that affected by this virus outbreak.
Others were hit early. And hard.
For some on the end of the virus curve, the peak of this crisis may still be a few weeks away.
Where your church is located geographically will determine how long the effects of COVID-19 will likely last in your giving.
QUESTION 7: What if our giving trends ultimately match what some are projecting for our economy overall?
Some economists are projecting that unemployment could reach 30% and that the GDP this year will plummet nearly that much in 2020.
What if those numbers correspond to your weekly giving? What if your giving is down 30% in 2020?
Wise leaders are running all the scenarios right now... best and worst case.
QUESTION 8: How will the Payroll Protection Program help or hurt my church?
Many churches are applying for (and receiving) money from the Small Business Administration's Payroll Protection Program that will help with payroll expenses for the next couple of months.
It's too early to tell how many churches will be able to tap into these funds and if these funds will do what many church leaders hope they will.
Each church will be different. In some, the PPP will give the needed relief to get through this crisis and retain staff. For others, it may put off budget decisions that will ultimately have to be made, either in staffing or other areas.
QUESTION 9: If I have to cut my budget, where will I make the cuts?
Every leader should be prepared to make cuts if needed. But where?
Now is the time to start looking for areas to cut. Everything should be looked at.
Most churches can save some money on travel and facility expenses. Others can make some small reductions in ministry-related costs here and there. Many churches, unfortunately, will need to take a look at staffing levels and overall personnel costs. (Most churches personnel costs are around 50% of their budget).
QUESTION 10: What is our worst-case scenario?
No leader wants to do this. Ever. But it's one of the responsibilities of strong leadership of an organization.
You have to ask yourself: what is our absolute worst-case scenario?
- What if we can meet in person for a year?
- What if giving goes down 50%?
- What if we have to lay off 1/3 of our staff?
- What if the financial recovery in our country is slow?
- What if we have people in our church that need financial assistance?
- What if we have to do $1 million of ministry with just $700,000?
Don't get me wrong: I'm a glass half-full guy. I'm not a doom and gloomer.
But I am a planner.
Pastors, leaders, and boards that are not taking this crisis seriously will lose.
Pastors, leaders, and boards that think they can ride this out with the status quo are deluding themselves.
Those that are planning and pivoting now will better be able to ride the next wave of what God is doing. Those that don't will likely be playing catch-up for the next decade.
So... those are the questions I hope you're asking.
I'd love to hear what you are thinking.
Honestly, since this is the week after Easter, this may be the first time you have to take a deep breath and ask some of these questions.
Can I offer to help?
I'd love to talk with you about the questions your church is asking. I can share with you what I'm hearing from other churches (particularly in the area of staffing). But I'd love to spend some time just hearing how you and your church are doing.