Church Donations

Tithes Rise During COVID, Defying Concerns of Church Collapse | South Carolina News

By MIKE ELLIS, The Greenville News

GREENVILLE, SC (AP) – When the pandemic struck, Pastor Ennis Fant, like thousands of his fellow clergy, feared it was the end of his church.

“We always operate on thin margins, any little problem would be cataclysmic,” said Fant, who runs a small Baptist church in Powdersville.

But he found, like most churches, that fears of an apocalyptic year were unfounded.

At the start of the pandemic, the predictions were dire: churches, already on tight budgets, would soon collapse in large numbers.

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Yet, as the collections were numbered, a surprising thing happened: many churches themselves were above average, and larger church groups were down slightly but far better than expected.

The South Carolina United Methodist Church is down a few percentage points in the latest figures released in January, far better than expected.

The Southern Baptist Convention, a national group, had anticipated early on that it could be under its 20% budget. At the end of its fiscal year in September, it was down only 2%.

“Personally, I have never sweated,” said Reverend Ronnie Floyd, chairman and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention, in an interview with The Greenville News and Independent Mail.

“Churches, which did not have a reputation for innovating, learned to innovate overnight from small to large,” said Floyd. ” They did not have a choice. It was either that or off the map, the only way was technology.

For Fant, who is also a member of Greenville County Council, and many other pastors, it has been even better financially than standing flat or seeing less than feared declines.

The digital switchover, which his church had previously resisted, meant that there was no church in person, but all children and grandchildren scattered across the country could connect. They looked and they donated and they brought the church to life.

Away from the collapse Fant feared, his church is now receiving 30-40% more in donations than last year, he said.

Fant embarked on a quick recitation of various online giving platforms he had never used before and in less than a year the handful of platforms became the church’s financial lifeline. Not only by supporting the church, but by allowing it to give more.

Defying expectations, for Fant and pastors across the country, has been driven largely by technology, as Floyd has seen it nationally.

Online church services and online options for church giving were essential to keeping churches alive, said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, a publishing and research group affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

In churches across the country, fear of collapse was real in March, he said.

In early March, 99% of churches were meeting in person. It had fallen to 7% by the end of the month, he said.

Surveys of churches before the pandemic showed most had little or no savings and in 2018, less than half of churches had an online donation option.

Without significant savings and a way to collect offerings, things were not going well for many churches.

That must have changed quickly and that’s what happened, McConnell said.

For every church that had online donations and online services before the pandemic, there are now two, he said.

The new technology has some big benefits: Automatic withdrawals mean less uncertainty for churches, because if someone doesn’t attend for a week, donations are still made. And it allows people to donate from afar, as Fant discovered.

There is another big reason why churches globally have not collapsed.

It starts with people.

At the small Freedom Baptist Ministries Church in Anderson, Pastor Tony Tilley saw his tithes increase.

He had expected the contrary but was surprised to see an increase in donations.

Reverend Tony Boyce, who heads the Mt. Emmanuel Baptist Missionary Church as well as the Rocky River Baptist Association in the Greenville area, said people have been generous.

It’s a generosity driven both by greater needs in the community and because a lot of people have more money this year, if they haven’t lost their jobs, he said.

On the financial side, donations to his church of about 130 people have increased dramatically, about 25% more than a year ago, Boyce said.

Reverend Josh Hunt, the pastor of First Baptist of Anderson, runs a church that has already done most of the options online.

His church was already quite digital, but he too was surprised to see people giving more, this allowed the church to continue their local ministry, which grew as more distant mission trips were postponed for profit. more local efforts.

Pastor Russell Drake, of the Sanctuary of Praise in Anderson, said his church has given more and the church has even been able to move forward with investment projects like improving a parking lot as well as the maintaining their missionary work.

He attributes the donation platforms and especially the people of his church.

Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz, of Temple B’nai Israel in Spartanburg, said there was more demand for charitable causes like the pantry that his temple helps support.

“They’ve dug deeper into their pockets, aware that they are of what’s going on,” he said.

Donations may be down slightly, but spending, except for pantries and the like, has also declined, Liebowitz said.

“We are as poor or creditworthy as we always have been,” he said. “We are finding ways to continue. “

THERE ARE STILL CHURCHES IN STRUGGLE

More than a dozen churches, places of worship and religious associations in the upstate have spoken to The Greenville News and the Independent Mail for the story and none have reported a significant drop in donations.

It is not known how many churches in South Carolina, or the country, have closed this year due to pandemic effects and it may not be known for years.

LifeWay is completing its research on the number of churches closed in 2019. The number is typically around 1% of churches and it was also around 1% during the 2009 financial collapse, said McConnell, of LifeWay.

“I guess that would be two to three times the typical number,” he said.

This is significant but far better than the worry at the start of the pandemic, when many experts expected ten times as much, as the Southern Baptist Convention had already predicted.

Technology and generosity are two big factors behind collections that defy expectations, but there are other reasons as well, said McConnell, the LifeWay researcher.

He said the churches, as often happens, reflect what is going on in the country.

“Some have had a fantastic year financially and some have lost a lot and a lot of people are in the middle and the same goes for churches,” McConnell said.

About 8% of churches have seen their donations drop 25% or more, according to a survey he helped lead and released in late 2020. In March, nearly a third of churches were down 50%, so figures show that donations have largely picked up for most churches, McConnell said.

That said, there are still hundreds and thousands of struggling churches and these tend to be smaller churches, he said.

Closures in the coming months and years might not be directly linked to the pandemic, as many churches can hang on for years with few members as long as the building is paid off, McConnell said.

But when the CVC goes, or the roof leaks, in addition to pandemic challenges, the church will not be able to survive, McConnell said.

Stimulus checks were another key factor, giving churches quick cash, vital to stay afloat in the early days, and this was followed by federal grants that many churches applied for, he said. he declares.

Perhaps the best fiscal year for churches in recent history was 2018, when wages rose and the effects of a recession, which often set churches back by a year or more relative to the general economy, were of the past, said McConnell.

WHAT IS IN THE FUTURE?

It’s hard to say what will happen later, but for Fant, the pastor of Powdersville sees a bright future for his church.

Maybe brighter than a year ago.

Now it has an following, although it is not huge it extends well beyond the driving distance.

Like many pastors, he is working harder than ever.

There are more phone calls, more camera juggling during services, and more worries about his health and that of his congregation.

But there is one thing – his church finances – that the pandemic hasn’t hurt.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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