Pandemics, Church Economics, and the Co-vocational Future of the Church

more than a pastor show May 05, 2022
Pandemics, church economics, and the future of the church
 

How are pandemics and economics shaping the future of the church in America? That's the topic for this episode of the More Than a Pastor show.

We’re continuing our series on why I think the future of the church in America is co-vocational. We’re exploring several cultural, social, and economic  trends that I believe will lead to churches getting smaller and full-time pastors becoming co-vocational. 

Last time we talked about Doubt, Dogmatism, and Deconstruction

Today we're exploring 5 financial realities that will impact church finances and giving in 2022, and I'll share 8 ways that pastors and churches can thrive financially this year.

But first…

Have you been thinking about creating extra income outside the church, and wondering if starting a business is really right for you? I’ve put together a free resource to help you figure that out! And it’s aptly called “How to Know if Starting Your Own Business is Right for You?” In it I share the top 12 signs that you might be ready to start your own business. And the three most important things every pastor needs in order to launch and grow a successful, profitable business. Download your free copy today at morethanapastor.com/biz.

 

Pandemics, Church Economics, the Future of the Church in 2022

So can you remember back to March 15 of 2020, the day the US and the world began to shut down and lock down?

It was just for 15 days to slow the spread, they said, or just 15 days to flatten the curve...

And then that turned into lockdowns, mandates, and protocols that just kept getting extended month after month after month.

Leaving many pastors and churches struggling to pivot to online worship, to keep their congregations connected and their churches afloat when they couldn’t meet for in-person worship.

I’m not sure how it was for you and your church at that time, but for many, there was this air of expectation that hopefully, by the fall, things would get better. Especially as more churches were able to open to in-person worship.

But the pandemic kept rolling along didn’t it? And in many states, so did the lockdowns, mandates, and protocols. And for churches that did open their doors, so many people continued to “stay home and stay safe.”

Our church hosted outdoor drive-in services each Sunday during the summer of 2020, and we had a great response to them. Tons of people came out, and there was a sense of excitement, fun, and fellowship…from a distance.

But on the first weekend of November, when we came back inside, our summer momentum tapered off, and our in-person attendance was maybe 20% what it had been pre-pandemic. Though we continued to stream our services online.

Then we anticipated Christmas of 2020, hoping to see more people come back. And then with New Year’s Eve, there was this great anticipation that the new year 2021 was going to be so much better than 2020, and hopefully the pandemic will be over, and church attendance and giving can get back to “normal.”

But for many churches…it didn’t.

And then there was this anticipation that we’ll have bigger crowds on Easter Sunday of 2021. And some churches did see a bump then, but many still struggled.

We got up to around 40% of what we were pre-pandemic.

Then came the summer of 2021. And the fall, when we hoped everyone who had stayed away due to the pandemic would finally come back in-person.

And yet still for many churches, their numbers were half what they had been before the pandemic.

Then Christmas of 2021 came, and another New Year’s Eve, and we had great anticipation that finally, in 2022, this would be the moment when we’d see everyone come back, and our giving bounce-back.

Then for Easter of 2022 many churches saw a nice bounce in attendance. But a lot of churches are still half, or maybe two-thirds, of what they had been before.

And now, instead of 2022 becoming the promised land flowing with milk and honey, we have geopolitical instability caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising inflation in the U.S. that is resulting in prices skyrocketing 10-15% on food, utilities, and other necessities, and 50% on fuel, housing prices becoming unaffordable, and growing economic uncertainty sparking fears of a recession, that leave us feeling like we’re still wandering in the wilderness.

So…what if the comeback we’ve hoped and prayed for over the last two years never happens? And the declining attendance and giving patterns that so many churches are experiencing won’t ever get better for your church?

All thanks to this triple whammy of…

  1. Worship and giving patterns being disrupted by the pandemic
  2. Serious economic instability affecting every sector of our economy, and making everything cost more
  3. Eroding trust in the traditional,“institutional” evangelical church by Millennials and Gen Z, as I’ve described over the previous five episodes in this series

And as I’ve said in each of these episodes, I don’t believe these social, cultural, economic, and political issues point to the end of the church in America. Because I believe that Jesus is still working out his redemptive purpose for the church in the world.

But maybe it’s the beginning of the end of the church as we’ve known it in America. And maybe the way your church looked 3-5 years ago is not quite the way your church will look tomorrow or in the next 3-5 years or beyond.

You know, it’s the job of every leader to define reality. And for many of us, we’re faced with the prospect that the reality we have two years into the pandemic so far, is the reality we’re going to have for the next two years. Or even longer.

Yes, it’s always possible that it can still get better. And I know for some churches it has gotten better.

But I ask the question…for you…have you defined the reality of where you’re at right now in your church? If not, is it time you do that now?

Maybe you need to accept that you’re no longer a church of 100, and you need to adjust to being the church of 50 that you are now. Or maybe you’re no longer 250 and you need to adjust to the 175 that you have. Or maybe you were 1,000 but you’ve only had 600 come back after COVID, so that’s your new reality.

Perhaps it’s time for every pastor and church to accept where they’re at right now, and begin to envision new realities of what church looks like, how people engage with the church, how the church is funded, how facilities are used, how pastors are paid, as a result of this new reality?

Maybe we need to adjust to the new reality that many churches will continue to struggle financially. Some will be forced to close. Others will need to make significant changes in order to survive.

And when church budget cuts need to be made, often, the biggest place to look is the staffing and salaries.

So what if you’re a full-time pastor and your church comes to the point where they can no longer pay you to be full-time. Do you know what you’d do in order to provide for your family?

Larger churches may fare better than smaller ones in some ways. Though I have a friend who served in a large church that just had to make financial cuts, and her position was terminated immediately,

But I believe there are things that churches of every size can do to not just survive but thrive in these uncertain times.

So today I want to share 5 financial realities that will impact church finances and giving in 2022. And give you 8 Ways that Pastors and Churches can Thrive Financially now and in the years to come.

 

5 Financial realities that will impact church finances and giving in 2022

  1. Engagement declines 30-50% - Many churches report seeing half the people they had pre-pandemic, counting those worshiping in-person and online. As many churchgoers engage in church less frequently than before, and some have stopped engaging altogether.
  2. More income from less people - Some churches who have experienced significant declines in attendance have been surprised to not see as much of a decline in giving. But that’s because they are receiving more income from fewer people. The number of giving units is declining across the board, but right now, many of those who give are giving more. Not sure how long that will continue.
  3. Generational funding gap widens - It’s been well documented that the Millennial and Gen Z generations are less trusting of institutions like the church, and their decreasing engagement will no doubt lead to a serious generational funding - and leadership - gap for many churches.
  4. Inflation costs average households $6,000 - Economists from Bloomberg recently reported that rising inflation will cost U.S. households nearly $6,000 more this year to cover basic household expenses. This impacts churches in several ways: 1. Churches are also facing rising costs for food, fuel, supplies, and other expenses. 2. Staff salaries are automatically worth $6,000 less than they were last year, meaning that churches should consider cost of living raises. 3. Congregants will have less disposable income to give from. I know most pastors encourage people to give a tithe from gross, regardless of what else is going on in a person’s life. But you and I know the reality is that for those who aren’t mature givers, or those facing serious financial challenges, their giving to the church may decrease during this time.
  5. Fears of recession will affect financial decisions - Economists are mixed on whether the U.S. may be headed for a recession in 2022. But a recent survey by CNBC showed that 81% of Americans are concerned about one happening this year. Another survey by Allianz Life Insurance Company said 79% of Americans are worried that current world tensions would cause a recession. These feelings will have an impact on giving to churches in 2022, 2023, and beyond.

So I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer and just tell you all the ways I think your church may struggle financially in the foreseeable future.

Let’s get on the solution side, and take a look at some 8 ways you and your church can not just survive, but even thrive in the face of these financial challenges.

 

8 Ways Pastors and Churches can Thrive Financially in 2022

  1. Equip your congregation and community to adapt and thrive - Host job fairs if people are having a hard time finding work. Launch a side hustle club and teach entrepreneurship classes to help people start side hustles and businesses to meet that $6,000 gap caused by inflation. Offer money management classes. Look for tangible ways to help people in your church family and community. This shows you’re engaged in the community and not tone deaf to the needs affecting everyone around you.
  2. Encourage cause-based giving - New or immature givers may not be motivated to give generously 10% or more just because the Lord loves a cheerful giver. People today - especially Millennials and Gen Z - are more motivated to give to people and causes they are passionate about. People raise money on social media for their birthday, run a marathon for clean water, etc. So look for ways you can tap into these passions! Some churches start this in an indirect way with first-time visitors. When a visitor fills out the guest card or checks-in online for the first time, they learn that the church is so thrilled by their visit that it wants to make a donation in their name to one of three local charities supported by the church. So the visitor gets to indicate which charity they’d like “their” gift to go to. Then the church can follow up later to thank them and tie that gift into the good the church does in the community with its partners.
  3. Nurture your givers - Especially new ones. Look for unique and personal ways to celebrate and thank those who give to your church. Start thinking more like a charity or university that has different levels of giving, and offers different levels of appreciation, swag, and benefits. People love to be a part of a club or group that is making a difference. And most people would love a really cool t-shirt or hoodie that connects your church to a local or global cause. So consider starting a giving club and offer something really cool for people who join the club. And find ways to nurture and mentor them more directly than you may do at the time you traditionally receive your offering in the service. And you know this, but always be telling stories of impact that show how their giving truly makes a difference.
  4. Go all-in to engage the younger generations - Younger people are participatory in the causes they care about. In other words, they want to be in on the decisions on how money is spent and giving decisions are made. So invite them into your budgeting and giving process now. As mentioned before, they are much more cause-driven. And borrowing an idea from my previous point, maybe start a teen or young adult giving club
  5. Nurture your Senior Saints through estate planning - Some senior saints in your church are cash poor but asset rich. They may think they aren’t able to give as much as they wish they could, because of their lack of cash. However, they could be thrilled to learn, through an estate planning conversation or workshop, how they could give gifts of appreciated assets like stocks, bonds, annuities, Bitcoin, or property to the church, or even bequeath money to the church in their will.
  6. Explore alternative sources of revenue - Now’s the time for churches to consider how to repurpose their under-utilized building space and land, in order to generate sustainable income for the church. One easy way to generate in income is to rent out space to social service agencies in your community. Other ideas include: A preschool, coffee shop, fitness center, play land, laundromat, food co-op, a space for business start-ups, housing for senior citizens or people with low income housing, storage units...and more...
  7. Act like you’re a church plant - Last fall I participated in a church multiplication boot camp, so I could be better equipped to coach church planters who went through this boot camp and are at various stages of launching their new church expression. One piece of advice that was shared really stuck with me and is applicable for all churches. If at any time you feel stuck and you’re not sure what to do next…just start over again at the beginning. Start with building relationships with key people in your community. Start building relationships with a core team and invest strategic time with them. Invite them and others to prayerfully consider making an investment in your church. Look for unique gaps in your community that you can help to fill as a way to build relationships and invite people to your church. Etc. So, if you feel stuck in your church’s life cycle, why not start over? Not completely. But start going deeper in relationships inside and outside your church. Make it fun. Be creative with your people. Make specific asks for help. This can help you build momentum and grow ownership and leadership in your congregation vs. more of it depending on the staff.
  8. Begin the shift to co-vocational ministry - This isn’t for everyone. And it might not be for you. But if you’ve had a vision or something else you might like to do. Don’t feel that your only option is to leave your church to do it. So many pastors quit their church because they feel stuck, don’t know what to do, feel like they’re in a rut, they’re tired of the stress of so much of it depending on them, and they catch a vision of some other way they’d like to use their gifts and talents to make a bigger impact…and maybe even provide more for their family. But they think the only way to do that is to quit. Because a lot of churches aren’t keen on pastors doing work outside the church. But I’m here to say this thinking needs to change. And you can be someone to help change it. One thing I’ve discovered in my journey is that no one job taps into all my strengths, gifts, talents, passions, or experiences. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m a lot more creative when I’ve got my hands in more than one thing. I’ve discovered I’ve got gifts and talents that could benefit more people than can be reached from my church alone. And guess what….you do too. So how would you make this leap to co-vocational ministry? It starts with changing expectations. That the pastor or staff can’t do it all. That more people need to step up. That your sermon would probably be 90% as good if you prepared 10 or 15 hours instead of 20. Or what if you invited more people to share the pulpit more often? That you probably could find 10-15 hours a week to leverage your ministry skills into sustainable income outside the church, through a business or side hustle you love.

Not sure if you’ve got the skills needed to launch your own business? No problem! Get my free assessment guide, “How to Know if Starting a Business is Right for You.” In it I share the top 12 signs that you might be ready to start your own business. And the three most important things every pastor needs in order to launch and grow a successful, profitable business. Download your free copy today at morethanapastor.com/biz.

Well, that’s it for this episode of more than a pastor. Thanks for taking the time to join me!

I’d love to get your feedback on this episode. Tell me where I’m wrong. Let me know what resonated with you, or what questions came up in your mind. You can do that over in our free More Than a Pastor community over on Facebook

And until next time, remember that you are more than a pastor. Saying yes to God’s call doesn’t mean you HAVE to say yes to feeling stuck, broke, and unfulfilled in your life and ministry. Let’s work together to create the life, impact, and income you were made for!