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Evangelical Churches and Nonprofits Voice Financial Optimism
Note: to view larger versions of the charts included below, click on the images directly.
In March, when the United States abruptly shut down everything from in-person church services to after-school ministries that tutored at-risk teens, many ministry leaders feared that donations would nosedive. Yet by the end of April, the initial downturn of charitable giving had rebounded for many evangelical churches and nonprofits. One month later, their financial outlook was decidedly optimistic.
These findings come from a late-May survey conducted by ECFA (the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability). “Our membership represents somewhat of a proxy for the evangelical wing of U.S. churches and nonprofits, due to their size and impact” said Warren Bird, Ph.D., ECFA’s vice president of research. He noted that ECFA’s 2,400-plus members, spread across all 50 states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, receive $29 billion in annual revenue.
Primary Findings
Among the primary findings of the survey, which received 1,341 responses:
Despite financial challenges, evangelical churches and nonprofits remain optimistic about cash donations over the next 3 months. Overall, 58% said they’re optimistic, 27% uncertain, and only 15% pessimistic.
April year-to-year giving was strong, with 66% of churches and 59% of nonprofits reporting that cash giving in April 2020 was the same or higher than April 2019.
The role of online giving increased for 64% of churches from January to April 2020, but remained largely unchanged for nonprofits.
• Most surveyed churches and nonprofits applied for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), although larger churches and nonprofits were the least likely to have applied for it.
Financial Optimism
“The sense of financial optimism showed up across many of the survey questions, not just in the opening question,” Bird commented. He stratified most of the findings by the church’s or nonprofit’s size of budget, years since founding, and whether it had been financially growing over the three years prior to the pandemic. “In general, churches in this survey group show more financial optimism than nonprofits,” he said. “While churches of all sizes – including churches with attendances under 100 – showed financial optimism, this optimism level was lower for smaller nonprofits.”
The biggest differentiator between survey participants, according to Bird, seemed to be whether or not they were experiencing financial growth in the three years leading up to the pandemic. Nonprofits that had been financially struggling were far more likely to be uncertain about the next three months of their financial future than were any other group.

Financial Pessimism
ECFA’s findings were not all positive. About 1 in 5 churches (18%) and Christian nonprofits (20%) have established hiring freezes for nonessential roles. In addition, 11% of churches and 14% of nonprofits have reduced the number or hours of part-time staff.

Future Outlook
The key questions now are whether the optimistic outlook will hold and whether other segments of U.S. Christendom are being left behind. ECFA plans to repeat the survey every three months for a year, tracking how ECFA members and their affiliates weather the financial aftermath of the pandemic.
For a more comprehensive look at the findings of this study, please visit the link below.
Please direct questions to:

Warren Bird, Ph.D. , VP of Research and Equipping, ECFA
Access & Share Research: U.S. Religion During COVID-19

As the pandemic continues, the Faith Communities Today website is continuing to build upon a section dedicated to research and resources related to U.S. religion during COVID-19 , including denominational reports demonstrating the impact of the pandemic on their congregations. Our goal is to serve as a valuable central repository on how COVID-19 has impacted the world of religion. If your faith tradition or denomination has conducted related research, we would love to hear from you . We are also happy to be made aware of additional studies that we have not yet featured or included.
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