Half of Pastors See Negative Economic Impact for Church

LifeWay Research graphic

Half of Pastors See Negative Economic Impact for Church

After a few years of economic optimism, pastors say the 2020 economy is hurting their congregation.

According to a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, almost half of U.S. Protestant pastors (48%) say the current economy is negatively impacting their church, including 5% who say the impact is very negative.

Around 1 in 6 (15%) believe the economy has had a positive effect, including 4% saying it is having a very positive impact. More than a third of pastors (35%) say there’s been no impact.

Even with a 12-point jump from 2018 to 2019 (14% to 26%), perceptions of negative impact had been trending downward since 2010 when 80% of Protestant pastors said the economy was harming their church.

The 2020 negative numbers are the highest since January 2016, when 51% of pastors said the economy was hurting their church.

“The recovery from the last recession was slow for many churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Even in a good economy, it can be easy to focus on external factors that are hurting your church’s finances. Clearly, many pastors are seeing the recession in 2020 impacting their church.”

Most Protestant pastors say giving has been at or below 2019 levels, as well as at or below their budget for this year. Around a third report giving levels lower than last year and lower than their current budget.

For close to half of churches (45%), giving in 2020 has been about what was budgeted. A third (33%) say it is lower than budgeted, while 21% say giving has been higher.

When compared to 2019, 35% say giving has dropped this year, 32% say it is the same, and 29% say it is above last year’s levels.

Some churches are faring worse in giving than others in 2020. Minority led, mainline and smaller congregations are more likely to say they’ve felt the brunt of the declining economy.

African American pastors are the most likely to say the economy is having a very negative impact on their church (20%).

Evangelical pastors are more likely than their mainline counterparts to say giving in 2020 is higher than budgeted (23% to 14%). Similarly, evangelical pastors are more likely than mainline pastors to say giving is above 2019’s offerings (32% to 19%).

Pastors of churches with worship service attendance of 250 or more are more likely than pastors of churches with fewer than 50 people to say their giving is up from 2019 (32% to 23%)

“The economic impact of COVID-19 has been very uneven, and that includes churches,” said McConnell. “The types of churches that are most likely to be struggling financially are also the most likely to have not gathered in person in September. The exception is larger churches, but they were most likely to have less than 30% of their pre-COVID attendance in person.” (LifeWay Research)