Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big numbers guy. I love to sit down and make sense of data. So sitting down with the latest data and trends in church giving, provided by our partners at MortarStone, was a fun project for me.
Although not all of the numbers are encouraging, it’s always important to get a clear picture of where we are now before we can make a plan to move forward.
This week, Amy and I are breaking down some of the biggest trends in church and non-profit giving, and offering some tips and suggestions for how churches can connect with new givers and encourage generosity.
2021 CHURCH GIVING TRENDS
- How church giving compares to other non-profit giving
- Year-over-year trends and giving patterns
- Seven ways to encourage generosity
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Other nonprofits are continuing to make gains as far as financial support is concerned. And churches, again, it feels like there’s a plateau that has started. And what that would suggest to me is I think people are beginning to shift their giving patterns, and as more and more people start to align with other giving to causes that are supporting other public organizations, more giving is starting to go to those organizations as well. And unfortunately, giving to religious organizations only grew by 1%. But that’s really a net decline when you factor in the increases that we’re experiencing in inflation right now.
Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be unstuck church. There seem to be countless ways that people can spend and give their money. In a time was so many options, how does the church encourage generosity towards its mission? On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy share some current financial data and seven practical steps to increase generosity in your church. But before you listen today, I want to invite you to join us on November 9th at 1:00 p.m. EST for a free webinar on how to lead a divided church. We know that the church is called to unity, but it feels like we’re more divided than ever. Pastors and church leaders are caught in the middle as political and cultural issues fracture congregations. Some are even considering leaving ministry altogether. So how can we lead boldly from a place of unity and peace? In this one-time event, Tony will be joined by Andy Stanley, lead pastor of North Point Community Church, for a conversation on how churches can reach and minister to diverse mission fields, what to do when our people choose politics over the mission and how pastors can shift their teaching to encourage unity. To learn more and sign up for this free webinar, click over to theunstuckgroup.com/webinar. Now, let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.
Well, today’s episode is going to impact some current giving trends in churches. And we’ll talk about some strategies, Tony, to increase giving, but before we get to that, how was your vacation?
Yeah, vacation was fun. Actually, we were both on vacation in recent weeks. Yeah, but Emily and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary, actually belated anniversary. But it was fun just for the two of us to get away. And, gosh, I was ready for that trip, Amy. I look back to my calendar, and I’ve been at 15 different churches or events since June 1st. And I know you’ve had a similar run as well. So how are you doing after your time off?
It’s actually really funny, Tony, as you started that because my husband and I also celebrated our 30th anniversary this year. Good marriages happened in 1991, I guess, but I also have been with 15 different churches since June 1st. When I saw you dropped that in our notes, I went and counted. I think I only had five weeks that I wasn’t on a plane going somewhere. So I have definitely reconnected with my Delta, Marriott and Hertz family members. I’d actually like to start our conversation today, Tony, just by hearing from you on the giving trends that, you know, you’ve been seeing in churches.
Yeah, absolutely. And so kind of the foundation for a lot of what we’re going to be talking about today is from our friends at MortarStone. They’re one of our strategic partners, and MortarStone works with a lot of churches. They provide generosity software to churches and that software solution provides analytics to help churches track and analyze giving trends so that churches can over time increase generosity and make better ministry decisions. And just to give you an example, some of the churches that they’ve worked with through the years include The Crossing Church. I believe that’s The Crossing in Nashville, but I’m not positive. The Church of Eleven22 down in Florida, Bayside Church out in California and Central Church. So a lot of great churches and the data that we’re going to be talking about in today’s conversation comes from their collection of information from over 2,000 churches. Here’s the good news. When you look at all that data, though, giving is up 3% in 2021 compared to last year. And, that’s the good news. But I will say, looking back at the information that MortarStone provided, that the reason why giving is up 3% really has to do with strong year-end giving in the last 12 months. Otherwise, if you were to pull out that strong year-end giving from last December and looked at the last 12 months compared to the 12 months prior to that, we’ve plateaued in our giving in churches. So it’s going to be interesting to see if the end of 2021 is comparable and kind of giving picks up at the beginning or at the end of the year in order to get back to where we were last year. But as of now, it’s looking like giving is starting to plateau and maybe even decline. In fact, what’s interesting is that there’s been such a sharp decline, Amy, with new givers in the last 12 months and their new giving has dropped more than 20% from the previous year, which shouldn’t be a surprise to us because we’ve talked from time to time about the giving lag that exists in churches. And what I’m hearing from a lot of churches is in this current season, there are a lot of new people showing up to church. But because of that, my suspicion is that it’s going to take a while for those new people to become fully invested in the mission of the church, including through their financial giving. And that could also explain, too, why churches are struggling so much getting people to serve right now. It’s like there’s a lag in giving, but there’s also a serving lag. And that serving lag may even be longer. I’ve talked with several pastors in recent years that, you know, they believe that when new people come to the church, it does take them a while to start investing financially in the mission of the church, but what I’m hearing from more and more pastors, it’s actually taking longer for people to commit to serving. And so, those are some of the initial trends that we’re seeing when we look at the data.
I know that that’s not all you noticed because someone gave you a spreadsheet of data. So, what other trends did you see?
Yeah, this was pretty interesting—just looking at how MortarStone breaks down the giving in churches. And they use what they call giving bands. And so, let me run through these really quickly. Band number one givers are households that have given anywhere from $1 to $200 in the past year. The next level up . . .
For the year. Just to be clear.
Yeah, that’s right. Band number two: these are households that give $200 to basically $1,000. Band three is $1,000 to $5,000. Band four $5,000 to $10,000, and band five are the households that are giving more than $10,000 in a year.
And what was interesting is band one giving was about 15% of the households that are giving to churches. And those 15% of households were contributing about a quarter of 1% of the yearly giving to churches. That’s not a whole lot. So 15% of the households, giving about a quarter of 1%. Band five, on the other hand, represented 10% of the households. And that 10% has given over 50% of the financial contributions to churches in this last 12 months. And so, this is straight from MortarStone, and I couldn’t agree more that top-heavy giving trend, with a few households responsible for the majority of the ministry funding, that’s probably something as church leaders we need to be aware of. That right now, their sense is, and I’ve heard this anecdotally from other pastors at churches we’ve worked with in the last 12 months, is that there are some very faithful, generous folks in our churches. But it’s like these key families are really the ones that are funding the ministry right now. And where I think the opportunity is, of course, is whether it’s new people or kind of that, again, MortarStone would call them the band one givers, kind of those foundational givers. There’s a lot of them in our churches, but we need to encourage those folks to maybe take a next step. As far as their generosity is concerned.
You know, Tony, do you have any idea how these trends that you just shared, how they compare with other nonprofits?
Yeah, so Amy, this was interesting because the data they’ve collected; they also looked at non-faith nonprofits. And for those organizations, contributions to those organizations are continuing to outpace the contributions that are going to churches. And so, now other nonprofits are continuing to make gains as far as financial support is concerned, and churches, again, it feels like there’s a plateau that has started. And what that would suggest to me is I think people are beginning to shift their giving patterns, and as more and more people start to align with other giving to causes that are supporting other public organizations and the environment, I mean, a lot of giving is going to different causes like animal rights and things like that. As those causes have grown through the years, more giving is starting to go to those organizations as well. And unfortunately, giving to religious organizations only grew by 1%. But that’s really a net decline when you factor in the increases that we’re experiencing in inflation right now.
So, again, giving up very slightly to religious organizations, but inflation is outpacing that. I was reading about $7 gas in California recently. So if that’s the case, yes, we’re not keeping pace with inflation right now.
No. Well, Tony, given these trends, let’s try to talk about, I can’t help but go there, I was thinking of it as you’re answering the question, just the solution side of this topic. As you’ve thought about it, what are some strategies pastors and leaders might want to consider to encourage generosity? You know, as you said, moving from this band to the next band and help fund the mission of the church.
Yeah. So, hopefully, these are some very practical thoughts here. It’s seven. So it’s the perfect number of practical thoughts, too, Amy. And these are in no particular order, but hopefully, these might help you think about your generosity strategy at your church as well. So the first, and hopefully obvious, is you need to identify and thank new givers to your church. In fact, just to make it even more practical, handwritten notes are very powerful here. In fact, MortarStone share that they’ve seen research that indicates handwritten notes are read 300% more often than email messages. So when you’re thinking about that, again.
I wonder how they got that data.
We have to know, yeah, we have to know who the new givers are. But once we know who they are, we have to be really intentional about making sure we thank them for those contributions and support of the mission of the church. Second idea here is to encourage new givers to connect relationally with others in the church. And the reason why I’m suggesting this is important for your generosity strategy is when people connect on serving teams and when they connect in small groups, they start to build friendships. And it’s really the friendships that keep people coming back to church. And so, if you want to increase generosity in your church, you have to keep people connected to your church. And the way that’s going to happen is if they develop relationships. A third suggestion is to implement a system for tracking changes in giving patterns. And so, here you want to be looking for either decreases or increases in people’s giving. And I would use, whether it’s an increase or a decrease, that as an opportunity. That’s an opportunity to reach out to people. And through those conversations, you might find there’s really a place for the church to step in. And again, this will commonly happen through the relationships that we’re developing, but it may be an opportunity for you to step in and provide ministry or discipleship to somebody based on what you’re seeing around their giving trends. In fact, again, MortarStone shared that, on average, people leave their church approximately 90 days after they’ve stopped giving. And so at any point along the way, if you notice that giving has dropped off for a particular family, that would be a great time to reach out to them and just ask, how are you doing and how can the church be serving you? How can we be ministering to you in this season? So, that’s the third one. The fourth one is just a reminder for pastors, those of us that are teaching on Sundays in particular, that we need to continue to teach on biblical stewardship principles in generosity. And certainly, this is more so maybe in this season because, again, so many new people are showing up to our churches for the very first time. And in many cases, these folks aren’t going to be familiar with some of the biblical teaching on money and stewardship. And so this is a great time, I think, for us to just be giving some kind of initial thoughts to folks on what does the Bible say about giving? What does the Bible say about being good steward of the resources God’s provided?
That was a game-changer for Jason and I, Tony, when we heard that teaching being new to our church in our twenties. And in hindsight, it was so not about the church. It was so much about growing spiritually. And so, I know our listeners know this, but I also know sometimes it’s hard for some pastors to teach on this topic or they’re uncomfortable with regard to it. But I couldn’t endorse it more as a way to help new people even grow in a significant way spiritually through learning those principles and putting them into practice.
That’s right. Fifth idea here is we just need to continue to make giving easier. And this, of course, is one example of where I’ve just been so encouraged by the progress that many churches have made in the last couple of years as it relates to providing online options for giving, providing apps for giving. Again, here’s another free advertisement. We should start charging for these advertisements, but my church uses Pushpay. Pushpay doesn’t pay for us to share their service, but it’s a great app.
It’s so easy.
And it makes it so easy for us to contribute financially to the church that we’re a part of. Number six is to share stories about the ministry impact that you’re having in your community and in people’s lives. And time and time again, we see people give generously to a great cause. I mean, I think that’s one of the reasons, Amy, why we’re starting to see the shift happen from churches to other nonprofit organizations. Frankly, they’re doing a better job than we are of explaining the impact that they’re having with whatever their cause is about and sharing stories about the impact that they’re having. And here’s an opportunity for the church maybe to step up its game because our cause, of course, is the greatest cause. And we have, should have anyway, some phenomenal stories of ministry impact that we can share. And if we can help people see the impact that their giving is having in other people’s lives, I think we’re going to find that they’re going to be more generous over time as well.
I don’t know if you’d agree with this, Tony, but often when churches, you know, they’ll create a development role to bring someone on to work, especially in the larger churches. And they often say that role will pay for itself, right? Because of how they work with financial leaders in the church. I think the same could be true in media ministry. Bringing people in who are really great at telling the stories of the church, I bet would pay for themselves because that’s how we are so used to getting our heart, you know, bent towards the ministry or the organization when we actually get to hear those stories. And now, with so many people connecting online, it’s even more important that those media team members who can use their gifting to help compel people to get engaged in the mission of the church.
I agree. And the good thing is, too, I mean, nowadays there are more and more resources that churches can just contract with organizations to help share these stories as well. So whether it’s bringing somebody on your staff team or just investing in some organizations that can help you tell your story, I think that’s wise advice there, Amy. The final and maybe practical next step for you to consider here is, and again, this is probably pretty obvious, but if you want to increase generosity in your church, you have to be generous as well. You need to model this; your pastors, your elders, your staff need to lead by example in this area. And as you do that, I think you’re going to be surprised at how people will respond to that. They, when they see their leaders doing it, they’re going to follow you as well. And so, those are the seven. Let me run through them real quick again: identify and thank new givers, encourage new givers to connect relationally with others in your church, implement a system for tracking changes and giving patterns and then respond when you see that, teach on biblical stewardship principles and generosity, make giving easy to your ministry, share stories about the ministry impact that you’re having and then lead by example by being generous to yourself. And here’s, especially again, Amy, along that last suggestion about being generous, leaders really do have to lead by example here with their spiritual formation, discipling others, using their spiritual gifts. And we need to lead by example in our giving as well. And I don’t care if it’s a pastor or elder or church staff person; if you can’t lead by example, including leading through your giving, then you really shouldn’t be leading in the church.
That’s right. I agree. Alright, well, that was great information. I hope there’s a nugget in there for every one of our listeners that will help in this area. But any final thoughts, Tony, before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah. You know, this is again another good example of how clarity of mission, vision and ministry strategies also impact the financial health of churches. And it makes me sad that other nonprofits are doing a better job of casting vision for their causes while churches seem to be losing ground in this current season. And the reality is that if giving in your church is in decline or not keeping pace with inflation, you may not have a generosity problem. You may have a mission and vision problem. If so, we’d like to help you turn that around. Amy and I consult with churches throughout the U.S. and in several countries around the world. And we want to help you elevate your mission so that more and more people will want to invest their time and money in your cause. So if you’d like to learn more about how we can serve you and your church, please reach out to us at theunstuckgroup.com.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Don’t forget to sign up for our free webinar on November 9th at 1:00 p.m. on how to lead a divided church. You can learn more and sign up today at theunstuckgroup.com/webinar. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.