Shepherding in a Shifting Financial Landscape

The pandemic intensified existing economic challenges for churches—and catalyzed new ones.

Salem Baptist Church of Chicago got creative with ministry funding in 2020. The predominantly Black megachurch served 15,000 meals to needy Chicagoland residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, funded in part by government grants received through a nonprofit organization affiliated with the church.

Giving from church members held strong, said pastor of ministries Shaun Marshall, but increased ministry necessitated new funding streams. Now with the pandemic continuing to fluctuate, Salem has realized its new funding model probably is here to stay.

Among COVID-19’s lessons: “The church cannot be dependent upon just one stream of revenue,” Marshall said. That is one of several economic changes financial experts see on the immediate horizon for churches. Pastors, they say, should prepare for unique financial challenges over the next two years, driven in large measure by the global pandemic.

Shifting Funding Models

Churches will need more capital over the next two years. Average church size in the US has declined steadily for 20 years, according to new research by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). “As attendance goes down, per-capita costs go up,” said Warren Bird, ECFA senior vice president of research and equipping.

Additionally, many churches face deferred maintenance because they focused limited resources in 2020 on keeping staff employed. New technology costs abound too, Bird said, “as almost every church has added an online campus or otherwise increased its digital presence.”

These financial needs have led churches “to get creative and innovative” with money, Marshall said. Some congregations have explored how to run businesses as a second stream of …

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