Apr 7, 2020

Current Trends in Virtual Attendance & Weekly Giving Amid COVID-19

Over the last three weeks, Barna and Gloo have made a continued effort to check in on U.S. church leaders in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each Monday, Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman—often joined by other faith leaders and experts—have shared recent national survey data, illuminating current trends and exploring a new era of ministry in the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast.

In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the current well-being of pastors and their congregants, as well as review how other church logistics, such as attendance and giving, are faring in light of the crisis.

The State of Your Church

Measuring What Matters in Ministry

Pastors, Their Families & Congregants Are Still Doing Well
Overall, Protestant pastors report that they are doing well (36% very good, 48% good) with just 14 percent saying they are “okay” and 1 percent reporting they are doing poorly. Similarly, pastors say their families are also well (35% very good, 53% good), with just above one in 10 (12%) saying their families are simply “okay.”

When asked about the well-being of their congregants, pastors, to the best of their knowledge, say that, overall, their people are holding steady (9% very good, 61% good, 29% okay). Even so, a majority of pastors also shares that their congregants’ have definitely been affected by the COVID-19 crisis (16% a lot, 55% some, 24% a little), with only 4 percent reporting “not at all” and 1 percent indicating they are “not sure.”

Church Leaders Are Coming to Terms with the Longevity of COVID-19 Disruptions
Just last week, before social distancing guidelines were extended to the end of April, a third of Protestant pastors (31%) were hopeful they’d be hosting services in their buildings again within the month. Half (51%) assumed this would happen in May, while one in 10 (10%) looked toward June and a small percentage selected July / August (7%).

This week has sobered expectations somewhat; nearly three in five pastors (57%) say they will be back in business in May, with another 27 percent claiming June. A growing minority believes services won’t resume in person until later months (10% July / August, 1% September / October).

“One of the things that I’ve observed about the data this week is that even though churches are beginning to say it might not be until June or later [when they can meet again], there’s still this overall good cheer that leaders are expressing about the stability of the environment,” says Kinnaman.

“I wonder whether we as leaders are realistic about the real nature of the crisis that has hit and is going to hit,” concludes Kinnaman. “In the data, there’s a sense that pastors are trying to keep their chin up, but they’re also thinking they need to be prepared for what might be the toughest month of ministry any of us have ever had.”

Overall, Virtual Attendance Is Slightly Higher than Typical Sunday Attendance
Currently, a little under one in five church leaders (17%) reports that their church’s virtual attendance is the same as typical in-person Sunday attendance. While 29 percent say virtual attendance is down (11% much less, 18% slightly less), another 44 percent say it has actually been higher (29% much higher, 24% slightly higher). A small proportion of pastors (3%) says they do not stream or offer services to an online congregation, though 7 percent are simply unsure how virtual attendance compares to in-person attendance.

Financial Giving Continues to Trend Lower Than Normal In-Person Giving
For all the signs of optimism about well-being, attendance or recovery in the Church, it’s impossible to deny how the financial toll of the pandemic is extending to worship communities. This weekend, two-thirds of pastors (64%) reported that monetary giving is down, 28 percent significantly and 36 percent slightly. While roughly a quarter (23%) claims giving has stayed the same, 13 percent has indicated an increase (4% significantly, 9% slightly).

“I don’t think it’s all going to be okay. I don’t think personally we’re going to come out on the other side and be like we were. But I also don’t think that hunkering down in survival mode is going to help us when we come out on the other side,” Jud Wilhite, Senior Pastor of Central Church in Las Vegas, shared on the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast. “We have to look for opportunities now. We have to quickly shift into how we can serve. Churches are wrestling with their giving being down, but they’re not doing things. … You can’t play it safe and say, ‘If you give, then we’ll do.’ You’ve just got to go do it and ask your people to help you in the serving. Be who you are and do what you do; that’s what your community needs.”

In an effort to help serve the Church during this time of unprecedented disruption and as a continued part of our research into the State of the Church 2020, Barna and Gloo have created the ChurchPulse Weekly Crisis Toolkit, a free resource that includes three ways to help pastors see clearly and lead effectively in this time of uncertainty. To learn more about the Crisis Toolkitclick here.

About the Research

Barna Group conducted this survey online among 629 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–6, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

Data Collection Dates
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

© Barna Group, 2020.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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