By Aaron Earls
To address the spiritual wellbeing of scattered members, almost every church provided some type of online video alternative at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. To address the financial wellbeing of the church, however, fewer added online giving. Those that did saw a significant impact.
Online giving sees slower growth than online worship
Prior to the pandemic, 41% of U.S. Protestant churches provided no option to view the worship service or sermon online, according to a Lifeway Research study conducted in late 2019. Only around a third offered some type of livestream, either of the entire service (22%) or the sermon only (10%). Most (52%) did post a video of the sermon after the service.
Those numbers changed dramatically and quickly as the pandemic spread across the U.S. in Spring 2020, according to additional Lifeway Research studies. By April, 97% of Protestant churches offered some type of digital worship service option, including 45% who say they didn’t previously livestream services but did so because of Covid-19.Prior to the pandemic, 41% of U.S. Protestant churches provided no option to view the worship service or sermon online. By April 2020, that jumped to 97%, according to Lifeway Research. Click To Tweet
Not only did churches provide these online options, but many churchgoers—and even some non-churchgoers—participated. Among the 85% of Protestant churchgoers who say their congregations offered livestreamed worship services, 83% say they participated, according to a February 2021 Lifeway Research study. Among all Americans, 45% say they watched a Christian church service online during the pandemic, including 15% who normally do not attend church.
The research indicates that quickly offering online worship was a good move for churches as it allowed them to stay connected in some way to their congregants and opened the door for connections beyond those who had visited the church in person prior to the pandemic. Unfortunately, not as many churches took the opportunity to expand their online giving options as quickly.97% of U.S. Protestant churches offered online worship services by April 2020, but only 64% provided online giving, according to Lifeway Research. Click To Tweet
In 2017, Lifeway Research found 30% of churches offered a giving option on their website. In April 2020, 48% of churches said they were continuing to offer online giving, while 16% said their church had added it since the pandemic began. More than a third (35%) said they did not offer the ability to give online.
Impact of online giving
The pandemic brought significant financial stress for congregations. In September 2020, around a third (35%) said giving dropped compared to 2019 levels, according to Lifeway Research. Almost half of pastors (48%) said the economy was having a negative impact on their church. Those numbers have rebounded to an extent in 2021, but some churches are still feeling the effects of the pandemic.30% of churches said their financial viability has been put at risk because of the pandemic, according to a Faith Communities Today study. Click To Tweet
According to a Faith Communities Today (FACT) study on the impact of the pandemic, 30% said the financial viability of their congregation has been put at risk because of the pandemic. Churches that provided online giving, however, were in a better position to weather the difficulties.
The FACT report conducted prior to the pandemic found congregations offering online giving had increased from 31% in 2015 to 58% in early 2020. Still, only 30% say they actually place Importance on online giving.
Still, according to the report, “Just having online giving, no matter how much it was emphasized, increased per capita giving of regular participants by $300 per person annually.” In other words, by merely adding an online giving option, the average church will gain an extra $300 per year per regular churchgoer.“Just having online giving, no matter how much it was emphasized, increased per capita giving of regular participants by $300 per person annually,” according to a Faith Communities Today report. Click To Tweet
Among churches that offered online giving, the average congregation saw almost 1 in 4 of their people (23%) use the option. Those churches also reported receiving an average of 22% of their regular monthly donations through online giving.
As churches and churchgoers return, online giving should continue to be a priority. Almost all churches now gathering in person but are seeing only 73% of their pre-Covid attendance levels, according to Lifeway Research.
Like online worship, online giving is a way for those who are not physically present with your congregation to remain spiritually connected, as well as providing additional funds to continue the ministry of the church.
For those churches who do not have online giving, now is a great time to start. For those who do offer the option, now is a great time to remind in-person churchgoers and online church viewers about its availability.
Aaron is online editor for LifewayResearch.com