Will there be more empty church buildings in the near future due to COVID-19?

COVID-19 has lowered church attendance and impacted giving. Does this mean there will be more empty church buildings in the next few years? A few hints:

Photo by Nikko Tan on Pexels.com

Biltmore is just one of an untold number of congregations across the country that have struggled to stay afloat financially and minister to their flocks during the pandemic, though others have managed to weather the storm, often with help from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, and sustained levels of member donations.

The coronavirus hit at a time when already fewer Americans were going to worship services — with at least half of the nearly 15,300 congregations surveyed in a 2020 report by Faith Communities Today reporting weekly attendance of 65 or less — and exacerbated the problems at smaller churches where increasingly lean budgets often hindered them from things like hiring full-time clergy…

After congregants voted last May to put the church property, a two-building campus perched on a verdant knoll just off Interstate 40, on the market, church leaders are still figuring out what comes next, including where the congregation will call home. But they hope to use some of the proceeds from the property sale to support marginalized communities and causes like affordable housing…

When services went virtual, savings on utilities and other costs helped keep the budget balanced. PPP loans of some $290,000 were also key to maintaining employees on the payroll and offsetting lost revenue from renting out space and other services.

COVID-19 has been disruptive for many faith communities. The article notes the fallout in multiple areas and I will add how this might affect buildings.

  1. Disrupted giving. Congregations have to decide what is essential. This might differ across congregations as they consider staffing, programs, and buildings. A congregation with an older but important structure may respond differently than a newer congregation with less attachment to a property.
  2. Decreased attendance. The building has likely experienced less use during COVID-19. Is the same building needed in the future? Is it maintainable given fewer attendees or with modifications that make streaming services and activities possible?
  3. Congregations that were already struggling may have been pushed to the brink. Whereas they may have been able to hold on to a building longer or developed a solution without COVID-19, the pandemic gave a shove to property and building concerns.

Combine these factors with the regular flow of older church buildings and congregations fading away and we may just see more church buildings available for reuse or redevelopment.

See this earlier set of posts (on reusing religious buildings, building maintenance, using space differently, and different building energy) addressing possibilities for religious buildings post-COVID-19.

Disconnect between how much Americans say they give to church and charity versus what they actually give

Research working with recent data on charitable and religious giving suggests there is an interesting disconnect: some people say they give more than they actually do.

A quarter of respondents in a new national study said they tithed 10 percent of their income to charity. But when their donations were checked against income figures, only 3 percent of the group gave more than 5 percent to charity…

But other figures from the Science of Generosity Survey and the 2010 General Social Survey indicate how little large numbers of people actually give to charity.

The generosity survey found just 57 percent of respondents gave more than $25 in the past year to charity; the General Social Survey found 77 percent donated more than $25, Price and Smith reported in their presentation on “Religion and Monetary Donations: We All Give Less Than We Think.”

In one indication of the gap between perception and reality, 10 percent of the respondents to the generosity survey reported tithing 10 percent of their income to charity although their records showed they gave $200 or less.

Two thoughts, more about methodological issues than the subject at hand:

1. What people say on surveys or in interviews doesn’t always match what they actually do. There are a variety of reasons for this, not all malicious or intentional. But, this leads me to thought #2…

2. I like the way some of these studies make use of multiple sources of data to find the disconnect between what people say and what they do. When looking at an important area of social life, like altruism, having multiple sources of data goes a long way. Measuring attitudes is often important in of itself but we also need data on practices and behaviors.

 

Comments on whether Evangelicals are generous enough

A number of commentators, including a few sociologists (Christian Smith and Bradley Wright), weigh in on the question of whether Evangelicals are generous or stingy with their money.

Two points to take away:

1. Evangelicals are more generous than many people.

2. Evangelicals don’t come close to giving to their full capacity, let injunction the idea of giving 10% of their income.