Nearly half of Protestant pastors (48%) say that the economic lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively impacted their churches, but only a small fraction of them say the impact has been “very” negative, according to a new survey.
LifeWay Research, a polling organization under the auspices of the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources, released a new poll Tuesday in which over 1,000 Protestant pastors were surveyed between Sept. 2 and Oct. 1 about the economic condition of their congregations. Each respondent is either a senior pastor or the sole pastor of their church and comparisons were drawn from surveys conducted in several previous years. The sampling error for the most recent data does not exceed plus or minus 3.4%. While 35% of respondents said the economy is having no impact on their churches, 43% of Protestant pastors said their churches are “somewhat negatively” impacted by the current state of the economy. Meanwhile, only 5% of respondents said their church has been “very negatively” impacted. About 15% of pastors said their churches have either been “somewhat positively” impacted (11%) or “very positively” impacted (4%) by the economy. The survey comes as the pandemic has caused millions to lose jobs as some businesses have had to close down or alter working hours to make the working environments safer during the pandemic. In turn, some churches have struggled financially as giving has declined. Compared to data from 2019, the number of churches that are being negatively impacted by economic lockdowns increased significantly in the last year.
In 2019, only 23% of pastors surveyed said the economy was somewhat negatively impacting their churches. Meanwhile, 3% of pastors said the economy in 2019 was very negatively impacting their churches. “The recovery from the last recession was slow for many churches,” LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said in a statement. “Even in a good economy, it can be easy to focus on external factors that are hurting your church’s finances. Clearly, many pastors are seeing the recession in 2020 impacting their church.” The rise in the percentage of pastors who said the economy is hurting their churches from 2019 to 2020 comes as there was a steady improvement over the last decade since the Great Recession. In October 2010, nearly eight out of 10 pastors (79%) said the economy was negatively impacting their churches, with 13% saying it was “very negatively” impacting their churches. There was a noticeable drop in 2018. In 2017, 35% of pastors said the economy was negatively impacting their churches. In 2018, that figure dropped to just 14% only to rise to 23% in 2019 and 43% in 2020. The 2020 result is the highest percentage of pastors to say that the economy is negatively impacting their churches since 2016 when 51% of pastors said the economy was negatively impacting their churches. In 2020, just under half (45%) of pastors surveyed said that giving to their church is about in line with what their churches had budgeted. A third of pastors (33%) said that giving to their churches was “lower” than what had been budgeted. For some pastors (21%), donations to their churches were higher than what was budgeted for. However, about a quarter of pastors surveyed said that their churches are below 2019’s offerings by 10% or more. Meanwhile, 8% of pastors surveyed said their churches’ offerings are below 2019’s levels by 25% or more.About 35% of pastors said that total offerings to the churches so far for 2020 have been “below 2019’s offerings. While 32% said that offerings for 2020 and 2019 are about the same, 29% said offerings have been above 2019 levels. By comparison, 42% of pastors surveyed in 2018 said that their offerings were up that year.
“2018 looks like as good as it gets for positive economic impacts for churches,” McConnell explained. “People quickly got used to improved take-home pay from tax changes and were seeing fast payments.”
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