As the majority of North America is transitioning to a state of quarantine, many us of are discovering a new normal. No matter what your specific local context is, we can all agree that last Sunday started something different.
Much like the CDC and health experts are asking us to flatten the curve to slow the effects of COVID-19, we are asking all of you to respond in love, hope, and joy to our present crisis. While this weekend was a shock, it does not have to be the trend. We, the Church, can and should grow in impact through this.
We are able to help bring specifics to this conversation after surveying more than 250 churches this week about their engagement and giving on Sunday, March 15. There are certain trends that have emerged, and our desire is to bring the expertise to help you gain understanding of this new landscape—and to help you overcome the challenges. As the new normal comes into balance, as things unfold with COVID-19, and as we learn more, we will update you on what have learned.
Traditional Church Metrics Are No Longer Valid
There is a huge opportunity for every church, and every ministry and business that supports them, to adjust how we look at church effectiveness and leap forward. This isn’t just an opportunity, it’s an imperative. In the past, where corporate gatherings where the norm, it was easy to measure reach. How many people came, what did we receive in giving, and how many answered the call (or were baptized). That is no longer enough. This is not a new need but one that the clock has run out on.
While 58% of churches surveyed responded with online engagement numbers, many of them noted anecdotally that they are assuming the numbers were higher because they knew households where watching together. So how do you measure engagement when you stream services online and one online record represents an undetermined number of people?
Many Churches Are Not Ready to Be Online
We learned that, despite the proliferation of technology, there are tens of thousands of churches who are not engaging their communities online. Of the churches surveyed, astonishingly 37% responded that they do not offer online church in any measurable way.
This is a trend that we expect to see change, and we are already working with churches of many sizes on helping them get online by this weekend. Beyond the help CDF Capital is providing, there are many organizations and resources that can help you today. Visit our Online Church Resource List for a thorough list of resources that can help you get you online today.
Live Church Services Are Still Likely
While the CDC has issued a recommendation to limited public gatherings, there is no national quarantine. Many municipalities, however, are putting tight restrictions on public gatherings, this does not mean that churches will stop live services entirely. While large churches dominate most church thinking, according to The Harford Institute, the majority of American churches are under 150 in size (67%) with 11% of them under the size of 50. The same study shows that 15% of churches are outside metropolitan regions. This is thousands, if not ten of thousands of churches that either exist in areas without quarantine restrictions or are small enough to fit within current guidelines.
On March 15, 2020, 46% of churches that responded to our survey held live services, with 70% of churches under 200 holding services. While we expect both of these numbers to decrease in the coming weeks, we do not anticipate all churches to stop live services.
Live Church Services Are Still Likely
As Sean Morgan, CDF Capital Vice President with Leadership Capital, discussed in his post last Friday, we saw an expected drop-off in giving across most churches. Of the churches who responded, 58% reported seeing a decrease in overall giving. Of those churches, the average decrease in giving was just shy of 25%. The largest affected group was churches between 1,000-1,999 attendees.
While it may seem puzzling at first, the fact that mid-sized churches saw the largest decrease in giving makes sense in this environment. Those are churches that are growing or have grown recently, they most likely have put limited resources into online church, and they are living in between the small church and large church model.
Want some encouraging news in all this? We have some! Of the churches we surveyed, 1 in 8 had increases in giving, with an average increase of 12%. That’s good news—we now know engagement, and giving can stay the course and grow in this environment.
Here are Best Practices from these churches that you can implement:
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Redirect your church toward your online services, but do not use phrases like “Cancelled.” You need to remind everyone that your ministry is adapting and pressing forward, and their giving is what will turn this crisis into an opportunity and a new reality.
- Talk about giving! Your givers want to give; don’t be shy about pointing them very specifically toward your giving portal. If you don’t have one, get one. If you can’t get on by this week, give them the church mailing address for their check.
- Visit our website for more advice (coming soon) from Steve Carter on how to communicate effectively about giving in your sermons.
As the new reality we are faced with normalizes and churches adjust, we expect to see some of these trends change over the next few weeks. Keep checking our COVID-19 page for updates and to stay attuned with the key and timely learnings from our network of experts.
But beyond all that, I pray that you remain steadfast in this time with the undying hope of Christ. These are trends based on data that can and will change, but what does not change is the need for the Church to share the love of Christ with the world.