It was a season no one ever anticipated. As COVID-19 suspended in-person worship in churches nationwide, church leaders wondered how ministry expenses could possibly be met when there was no way to pass the plate. Giving initially tanked. And pastors began hearing constant usage of the word pivot.
Now, as life has begun to normalize, those same church leaders are sorting through which of their pivots should be adopted long-term for more effective ministry. What have we learned about the best way to develop Biblical financial stewardship going forward?
Through a series of quarterly surveys and reports, ECFA has been closely tracking the economic impact of the pandemic for an entire year. We examined the effect of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the shift to increased online giving and the creative strategies that emerged for retaining staff while trimming other costs. (See ECFA.org/surveys for those reports, the final one titled “Remarkable Resilience.”)
ECFA’s report, “New Frontiers in Nonprofit Fundraising” (a free download at ECFA.org/surveys), asked churches and other Christ-centered nonprofits what ideas and strategies worked best for them during the pandemic. Here are some of the biggest insights we found that are especially relevant to churches:
1. Major donors stepped up.
Money follows vision. When appropriately challenged, followers of Jesus will invest in initiatives that are making a difference for eternity, especially high-capacity givers. Our survey found that major donors were vital for helping churches and others make it through the pandemic.
2. Most financial gifts were small.
According to our survey, the majority of church giving—51%—was through smaller gifts (under $1,000). Another 29% of church gifts were from those who gave annually between $1,000 and $9,999. The remaining 20% of church gifts came those who gave $10,000 or more annually.
3. Lead pastors play an essential role in casting vision for financial stewardship.
Our survey found that financially-healthy churches had a lead pastor willing to convey a compelling, biblically based call to generosity.
4. Lead pastors must have support to champion stewardship.
Our survey affirmed the role of a financial team working together to develop and support generosity in the church.
5. Pastoral teams need creative approaches to develop relationships with key givers.
Some do this by occasional meetings of a “legacy team” where they share the inside story of ministry potential. (For example, the survey respondent who said, “With a new van, our volunteer drivers could pick up college students every week and bring them to church.” ) Others pair a hand-written note with a book inspiring financial, and then ask the church treasurer to distribute them to the church’s top donors. Whether or not lead pastors know the identities of their most generous givers, intentional effort with key givers is critical. Our survey affirmed that “one or more staff have specific donors that they are building relationships with.”
6. Churches used social media not only to raise awareness of life-changing ministry through the church, but also to invite donations.
Our survey found that Facebook was, by far, the most-used social media vehicle. The younger the person, the more likely they were to do their giving online, and they often do so through social media.
7. Churches are starting to accept cryptocurrency as donations.
Our survey found that 7% of churches are already set up to receive Bitcoin or other cybercurrencies. ECFA offers several resources on how to prepare for such giving, including the article “Granny Is Still Investing in Bitcoin—And It Pays to Be Ready When She Wants to Donate Some of It.”
By Warren Bird, Ph.D.
ECFA desires to support church leaders as they inspire Christians give generously toward Kingdom ministry. To find more free resources, like this information, go to ECFA.org/resources.
IDEAS FOR GRAPHICS, TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM THE NEW FRONTIERS REPORT: