Adapting to the Covid New Normal: Has Online Church Giving Gone Down?

By Dr. Darren Slade,
FaithX Research Director

This discussion on the difficulties about online church giving is the third post in our ongoing blog series, Adapting to the Covid New Normal, where our research director, Dr. Darren Slade, will provide a deeper research base for the posts we are publishing on congregations and Covid-19.

Dr. Slade will describe the research and Ken Howard will provide a pastoral perspective.

In a previous post entitled, “When You Can’t Pass the Offering Plate,” Rev. Ken Howard dispelled a number of myths about what it was going to be like for congregations to give and collect donations during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, Ken suggested that online church giving would not decrease the amount of money donated simply because people are unable to attend in-person church services or that the impersonal nature of online giving will give people an opportunity to skimp on their tithes. In this blog post, we will go through Ken’s myths to see what the current research is saying about giving online to churches.

Has Online Church Giving Gone Down?

According Ken Howard, “Case studies show that congregations who had fully implemented online giving before COVID closures saw giving increase.” But has overall giving gone up, gone down, or stayed the same during the pandemic?

Back in April of 2020, a national “State of the Plate” survey from the National Association of Evangelicals found that 65% of all church respondents saw a decrease in giving. For example, one-third of the respondents (34%) reported a drop in giving between 10%-20%. One-fifth of the respondents (22%) said giving dropped between 30%-50%. And almost one-in-ten churches (9%) said the drop was upwards of 75%. At the time, only 8% of the churches reported an increase in giving, while one-quarter (27%) claimed that giving had remained the same.

A separate survey from Exponential reported that 60% of pastors saw a drop in giving back in April of 2020. These findings were consistent with a Barna survey around the same time where 64% of pastors also saw a drop, as well.

However, in August of 2020, the “State of the Plate” survey updated their results after interviewing 706 church respondents. According to their latest poll, many churches still have not recovered, though the numbers are no longer as bleak as they were at the beginning of the pandemic. Almost two-fifths (37%) of respondents said giving was down while one-fifth (22%) said giving was up. 43% claimed giving remained stable. Unfortunately, it is not immediately clear whether these latest numbers are in comparison to the April 2020 numbers or to pre-COVID numbers.

What this means is that online church giving is likely on the upswing. Indeed, when the FaithX Project, in partnership with the Global Center for Religious Research (GCRR), briefly surveyed 28 church leaders, 53.6% said that they have not experienced a drop in congregational giving since the COVID-19 pandemic began in February/March 2020 when compared to their church’s pre-COVID numbers.

Two-thirds of those respondents (66.7%) said that congregational giving has actually increased as opposed to having stayed the same.

Of the 46% who said that they have seen a drop in congregational giving, 92% said that the drop has not exceeded 25% of their previous numbers.

What this means is that Rev. Howard’s projection about the eventual increase in financial giving is proving true. Over time, as congregants become more accustomed to online services and online church giving portals, churches will see a return to normal giving behavior. As it currently stands, there has been a boost in church giving as trends look to be leveling off.