A new nationwide survey from State of the Plate, which researches tithing trends across the U.S., has found that 65 percent of churches have seen their giving go down since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country.
“For pastors and church staff, there will be difficult days ahead as more church families are laid off or experience reduced incomes,” said Brian Kluth, the founder of State of the Plate. With that in mind, he encourages church members to be vigilant to look for ways they can support their pastors and church staff, whether financially or by other means.
State of the Plate: Giving Plunges
The poll took a “constituency-based survey of leaders” from 1,091 churches in all 50 states during April 8-20, 2020. The survey, co-sponsored by organizations including Christianity Today, polled leaders from “many denominations/affiliations”—mostly Protestant, reports Religion News Service (RNS).
Nearly two-thirds of churches that were polled said they had experienced a decline in giving. Thirty-four percent reported a giving decline of 10 to 20 percent or more, 22 percent reported a decline of 30 to 50 percent or more, and nine percent of churches reported a decline of 75 percent or more. Twenty-seven percent of churches said their giving has held steady, and eight percent reported their giving going up.
Brian Kluth founded State of the Plate after the financial crisis of 2008, and in a Facebook post about the newest results, he said, “This is much worse than the 38 percent of churches that had giving go down in the recession years.”
Similar surveys also show notable decreases in church giving. One study from the Billy Graham Center/Exponential/Leadership Network found that 60 percent of pastors were experiencing giving declines and that 11 percent said their giving had dropped by at least 50 percent. Seventy-nine percent of pastors told Barna their giving had gone down, with 47 percent saying it had fallen “significantly.”
Some positive news is that while there has been a significant drop in giving, nearly half of the churches that responded to the State of the Plate poll said attendance of their online worship services had doubled or more than doubled compared to the average attendance of their former, in-person services. Over half of the pastors who responded to Barna’s survey reported similarly positive results.
State of the Plate and Bless Your Pastor
State of the Plate’s Brian Kluth is also the national spokesperson for Bless Your Pastor, an annual campaign that is preparing to launch that “empowers congregations to creatively care for their pastors.”
Even when there is not a global pandemic occurring, many pastors work long hours, regularly making significant financial sacrifices. Bless Your Pastor reports that half of pastors make less than $50,000 per year and 60 percent do not receive any benefits. The churches they work for are often financially limited—half have a yearly budget of less than $125,000. The Bless Your Pastor campaign is one way churches can provide an extra financial blessing to their leaders and can even give them a $250 Amazon gift card.
Bless Your Pastor also has recommendations for creative ways people can support their pastors even if members’ finances are limited, as no doubt they are right now. These include ideas for how to pray for your pastor, suggestions for providing food and fellowship, and thoughts on specific acts of service. While some of the ideas will have to wait until shelter-in-place orders are lifted, people can implement many of them now.
Churches might choose not to participate in the Bless Your Pastor campaign, but Kluth encourages people to think of any practical way they can help church leaders and their families this year: “If you’re a barber, cut their hair; if you’re a mechanic, fix their car; if you grow vegetables, share your vegetables.”