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Churches weigh in on pandemic survival

Candles in a church

The effects of COVID-19 and restrictions on large gatherings have been devastating for all sectors of society, including the religious sector. How can churches survive the pandemic? The experts weigh in.

A snapshot of church groups during COVID-19

Although there’s tremendous opportunity for churches in the United States and Canada, conditions brought about by COVID-19, social unrest, and economic recession mean that churches, particularly those in low-income areas, also face a significant risk of closure.

Like small businesses and nonprofits, churches face a dearth of financing because of closures across the continent. For most of March and April, most American states imposed stay-at-home orders restricting religious gatherings in 43 states. Because churches in these states couldn’t hold in-person services, many of them saw giving decrease.

According to a March survey, 42% of protestant pastors reported that giving was “significantly down” in their respective churches while another 28% said that giving was “slightly down”.

5% of protestant pastors (representing thousands of churches across the U.S.) also said that they were “unsure” if they would survive the season.

A 2018 survey from LifeWay Research also reports that nearly a fifth of Protestant churches have less than four weeks’ worth of reserves while only half of churches have reserves for 15 weeks or less.

Church members are also facing general economic hardship, affecting their ability to give. In the past six months, nearly 30 million people filed for unemployment benefits across the U.S. The pandemic has disproportionately affected those working in restaurants, salons, and other businesses that were forced to close their doors during lockdown and which are currently operating at reduced capacity.

Even before the pandemic, churches across North America were already facing dwindling numbers, with fewer members in the pews. An increasing number of Americans are identifying as “nones,” meaning they are not affiliated with any church or religion.

Initiatives to help churches during the pandemic

There is hope for churches, thanks to the initiative of leaders and members who are finding ways to help their ministry survive:

  • AND Campaign President Justin Giboney started the Churches Helping Churches Challenge with the goal of raising $500,000 in April from financially secure churches for distribution to smaller churches suffering financial hardship in the form of one-time grants.
  • Churches may qualify for small interest loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to augment their reserves and cushion the blow of the recession.
  • Churches may also seek relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act and other government initiatives.

How churches can survive the pandemic

According to LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell, most churches can survive a typical recession because the effects come gradually and the full impact doesn’t hit until the following year. This gives church leaders and members some time to prepare and plan for the continuation of their ministry.

McConnell warns that current circumstances are irregular, with the effects of the recession being much less gradual and therefore having a greater and more immediate impact on church closures.

Giboney believes that churches can help each other during this time, with smaller churches being able to contribute just as much to larger churches and vice versa. For instance, recipients of the AND Campaign grants have been using the funds to pay church bills, staff, and other community needs.

He also says that the survival of small churches is vital to supporting entire communities, as churches meet the spiritual, intellectual, and physical needs of community members through worship, spiritual guidance, religious education, feeding programs, and philanthropic work.

A.D. Advisors specializes in buying and selling church-owned properties throughout Canada and the United States. We understand the needs and concerns of congregations and other non-profit organizations during these difficult times. You can contact our agents here. You can also reach our team at Info(at)ADAdvisors(dotted)org and 630.606.9000.