Monday, April 15, 2024

VIDEO: The State of Post-Pandemic Church Giving

Drawing from their recent and ongoing research, the directors of three Centers on congregational life and giving will discuss uncovered trends and have a guided conversation about how church financing is shifting into the future.

This webinar is part of an ongoing webinar series. Each webinar will explore the latest church research and insights for beginning the ministry year full of optimism and direction.

Below is an edited Q&A Transcript from the webinar:

Does a higher level of giving lead to a higher level of engagement? What are you noticing?

David P. King, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving: One thing to notice is there are different types of online giving that we’ve lumped in together. Whether that be the unique culture of giving, where some churches -the pastor is pulling out his or her phone and saying, right now I want you to, give, or you know, sometimes you get a side eye from people if you’re pulling out your phone in the middle of worship service. But you’ve regulated. You’re giving on a monthly basis, you know, debited from your account. the one thing I think, is super important is the fact that few of us carry cash anymore in the same way. And we’re just we’re accommodated to it.
But it’s a reminder for religious leaders in particular, to communicate and to help build practices around that giving and education or formation experiences as well. So I think particularly that
that next generation that you were. You’re pointing to where it’s not. We do know from research that
that people are more likely to give if they, if they’ve had to come, if they’ve talked about donations with their parents or their grandparents.

Scott Thumma, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: Yeah, I mean, I basically say the same thing. I’ve been trying to push doctor, ministry students or others to change how they give for a couple of decades, but that ritual, whether it’s passing the plate or going forward and dropping your offering into boxes, Is a significant symbolic obedience, you know. Sacrifice all of those kinds of things. And so I think even if we’re not doing that form of the ritual anymore. We still need to message that that’s a part of the Christian life, and and especially for future generations. But to remind us all that. It’s not just my check gets exited out of my account each month to pay for PBS. Or something else, you know that. It’s an actual intentional act on my part, and that’s really critical.

David P. King, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving: That really is what makes giving to congregations somewhat distinct, and oftentimes different than the other ways that we give to any nonprofits. That we probably would write a check to. That comes in, you know, comes through an email or comes, a direct mail request is that there’s something unique about that sense of duty, obligation, relationship, both to, you know, vertical to the divine in some way, but also to the community that you’re a part of
and if we sort of move away from the uniqueness of the practices and even theological ethical frameworks. For why we give in the congregational setting. It might look more like a typical gift to many of kinds of nonprofits. It’s a list of us, you know, in our email and our mailbox.

Allison Norton, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: I think that online giving it works so well, in part because it’s automated, but in the automation it becomes invisible, right in the sort of larger practice and and ritual life.

David P. King, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving: And one other thing that we found as we’ve started
Think about what kinds of questions to ask, not just, you know, to to individual donors or just individual Americans, you know, around there giving a volunteering when we have very few religious questions, you know, this is sort of in a broader way if we can ask their affiliation, maybe their attendance pattern. Which is that regular question. But we’re realizing there’s another question that usually is, is more tied to kind of engagement, that both in giving and volunteering, and that some second Level type of engagement, so it might be, being a part of a small group, or volunteering in the nursery, or ushering or Bible study something other than sent just attendance, which could be in person or online, but is in essence a bit more passive level of engagement than sort of a second order. So what we found is particularly talking with religious leaders. You need to be talking about giving more regularly. You know we do know from our data. Scott mentioned this as well like those who use online giving a lot, or in our data from some of our past surveys, religious leaders who were talking about it whether it’s from the pulpit or in newsletters, or obviously, they’re much more likely to see that giving. I think that’s the same. You can also not just talk about giving, but you can talk about ways of engagement that then we’ll have that sort of snowball effect. Essentially into higher levels of engagement. On giving and volunteering to.

Matt Manion, Center for Church Engagement: I think one of the things that could be interesting relative to that because I think when it was more from the association. I won’t speak for others, but at least I would view the involvement in a small group or a service activity as a progression in the discipleship journey to go from simply going to church to then the next step, as you get involved in a small group. These other things I think now that we’re in the flip of it. Perhaps more churches should benefit from looking at those as onramps to church participation. So do the small group first do the service activity first, as a way to become part of some larger congregation, and so that shift in mentality might also change practices and ways that could be helpful.

One of my primary concerns is generational, the largest giver in my congregation. They’re above 60, or even above 70. What do we do right when we have these aging congregations?

Matt Manion, Center for Church Engagement: Any budget that’s dependent on people dying to give you a cush is not a sustainable business.

Scott Thumma, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: One of the things that it seems to me that is really important is to think about younger generations, and and how they give, and some of it is not driven by their commitment to the organization, but maybe their commitment to a cause, or to have a passion. And so it’s it is a different way of in. I tell lots of churches not to expect younger generations coming in to support the organization, but they might support particular causes. And that’s a different way of looking at giving the other is I mean this, diverse streams. I think increasingly, congregations are asking, what do we do with our building? How can we use those spaces that we have? Are there ways not to just allow others to freely use our buildings? But are there ways to leverage some of that capital. To increase revenue.

David P. King, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving: I would agree. I think looking at those different economic models is key and just being open to and I think some of what we have experienced, you know, from the twentieth century. The way you know Church Chirational giving works or has worked is changing. And just again, one of my reminders to us is that it’s not just that congregations are experiencing this. It’s a it’s a variety of kind of it. You know the institutional trust that religion is seeing declines in is
it’s that’s across the board. So it’s not like the Rotary Club is exploding with new members, you know. At the same time. So think of a right variety of voluntary associations. So if there’s not that built in natural kind of institutional trust and sense of you have to remember that new gender. Anyway, if it’s the case that less than half of American households give anything you have to assume that one out of every 2 new people that come into your congregation are not accustomed to thinking about giving.
But at the same time congregations have been somewhat unique for 80 plus percent of their income to come in from individual regular giving by members like any nonprofit would love to have that opportunity right? So we have a unique ability. But, as Scott mentioned, sort of tying into those mission vision values, storytelling, not just assuming that the institution is the assumed place for one’s gifts, ties, and offerings, I think, is important.

Matt Manion, Center for Church Engagement: You know the thing I would throw in there is to recognize like yes, I would argue. We’re in the United States. At least it’s a post-Christendom world so like just own that. And so a lot of things that worked in the past. No. But if it’s mission territory, you’re actually viewing this mission territory. So for younger people, we gotta be in a relationship with the younger people to find out how they talk, how they give, how they view all those things, and engage them in engaging their peers. I do think, too, of the alternative uses. We were at a conference last week. Scott and I were
like, it can be easy to call with a bunch of alternative uses, and then the church just becomes a land board. I think the ones that seem to be doing it well, from what we’ve seen are the ones that are paying attention to what’s a need in the community that our church can serve. And then there’s a transactional piece to it. But it’s not so distinct from the mission, and there’s still a presence there that’s
somehow connected to the overall mission of what that church is trying to do. I think that’s
that’s absolutely crucial for this kind of things. The only last thing that I would say Alison, too, is is.
there’s just a lot of data that the more informed people are about the financial realities of the Church.
The more likely they are to be part of the solution. And so I think that’s one of the things that actually happened in Covid. When the church is shut down they couldn’t hide the fact that, like, Hey, we got a big issue here. We got no money coming in. We got no people coming in, and everyone understood it, and I think that was part of what sparked the greater generosity. So, whatever the situations are in our churches, just being transparent with the people and involving them. And how we’re gonna continue to do this work. That guys asking us to do, I think, is crucial.

Do you see any benefit and running some sort of fun drive, or a season of giving to increase awareness and intentionality around giving?

Scott Thumma, Hartford Institute for Religion Research: Well as a regular NPR listener and supporter, I hate those fun drives. I mean, personally, right there are different again, there are different giving traditions. I grew up in an independent Baptist Congregationalist kind and every week we were reminded of sacrificial giving who is a part of what it meant to be a faithful Christian in that congregation?
And it was drilled into us from when I was a little kid till now. And so it’s not a question of this season, or the end of the fiscal year, I mean, I do think there’s something to be said for the end of the fiscal year, or the you know Holy Week of Easter and Christmas. But it drives me crazy. Honestly. If you have to wait until this particular time, then I’m gonna go to the Web and listen to them rather than NPR sorry but
yeah, I don’t like it myself, but my colleagues, they should answer. But it is my pet peeve.

Matt Manion, Center for Church Engagement: What I think is interesting is like campaigns, development efforts, those things work. and they will bring in money. My concern with them kind of ties to what you’re saying there, Scott, is. What are we teaching people with them, depending on how it’s done. And I’ve seen a lot of instances where we’re teaching people to be transactional givers as opposed to generous givers. And so you give when the campaign happens, then, when the campaign is over, you stop giving. And so I would just really caution people to try and create a culture of generosity that stems from your discipleship. It’s harder. It takes more time. But. From a sustainability standpoint, and just from a faith standpoint. I think it’s preferable.

David P. King, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving: There needs to be a sense of professionalism, and to Matt’s point about people being attracted to an organization that clearly they have a sense of, you know, transparency and accountability. And we know oftentimes there is probably the path that you know congregations got because just that built-in trust that doesn’t. That doesn’t hold anymore. Or it holds much less. And so congregations have to professionalize in the sense of being able to provide, you know, accurate numbers back. Tell what real needs are versus just having the same budget that you’ve had for the last 5 years, and assuming it’s gonna meet the needs at that same point. You know, we’ve seen in our that, you know much smaller percentage than you might imagine of congregations nationally have some sort of like pledge campaign season, And to Scott’s Point there are different cultures of giving, so that that has been a typical culture of twentieth-century Mainline, Protestantism, and others as well, but is not found across the board while it could be a pet peeve and sort of like what we
we know that in, you know in October, when you have this 1, 2 week pledge season, people either skip that week or they know what you’re gonna say before you say it, because they just and just they just assume what you’re gonna say. But to the point of one of the commenters and our QA. It. I do think it’s really helpful to have some way of intention, like helping people have an intentional conversation about their giving, so it may not be through a pledge card, but it may be through a sermon series or some sort of place where they can. You have to equip them to help have that kind of conversation. It may not be for the church budget, but it might be a financial literacy class or something that you can equip them. you know, if you give it away in Sunday school to the kids, the kids are gonna ask their parents, and they’re gonna be forced to talk about it, whether they want to or not. For example.
the last thing I would say that really is the strength of the church in this scenario is.
you know, I believe we’re not just any kind of nonprofit. So we have. I mean, the sense of giving is part of a sort of formation and discipleship practice that one can grow in. So it’s not
just finances for the sustainability of the institution. But I do think religious leaders can lean into the fact that generosity and giving are good for good, for the individual, good for them I mean, we just know generosity is good for us. And tied to our faith for those of us engaged in those practices.
It’s something we can. I think, unapologetically lean into, not for the sustainability or institution, but for the health of those that are entrusted to our communities.