The Way Forward is Back
Remember when our Christian leadership was telling us that we cannot “go back” to our pre-COVID world because it no longer exists? In this post taken from my weekly newsletter, The Stewardship Coach we will examine how The Way Forward is Back.
During the height of Covid, it seemed that was all we heard. We were told to prepare for a future with fewer in-person attendance and more online engagement. We were told to stop moaning about the past, accept the reality of a Covid world, and do the best we could. Now, post Covid, American churchgoers are disproving that thinking. In at least one denomination, people are voting with their feet to attend in-person worship.
Lifeway Research recently released a report on the health of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination. Here are a few stunning statistics that show our core members have gone back!
- Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Baptist congregations saw the return of additional in-person worshipers. More than 3.8 million individuals attended a Southern Baptist congregation on an average weekend in 2022, a 5% increase over the 3.6 million who did so in 2021.
- Small group participation also grew overall, climbing 4% (almost 100,000 people) in 2022. A total of 2.3 million individuals were part of in-person Sunday School classes or small groups at a Southern Baptist congregation on the average weekend.
- On average, 61% of those who attend a Southern Baptist congregation on any given weekend are involved in a Sunday School class or small group.
- In 2022, Southern Baptist congregations baptized 180,177 people, a 16% increase over 2021.
- In 2022, undesignated receipts totaled more than $9.9 billion, an almost 2% increase over 2021.
- As congregations drew more people in person, Southern Baptist congregations reported fewer people worshiping or attending small groups online in 2022. On average, just over 1 million people participated in an online worship service at a Southern Baptist congregation each week, down from more than 1.4 million in 2021. Online small group participation dropped by more than 58% to 82,404.1.
You might not be a Southern Baptist, but my guess is that if you are a conservative Evangelical church, you are seeing similar results. The exceptions are going to be those that minister in states that had stricter “lockdown” strategies.
The pattern is that the sooner a church went back to in-person worship, the quicker it recovered and often saw significant growth. Was that growth the average 20% that we have not seen return to most churches? My suspicion is that we have simply traded sheep. Still, given what was predicted in March of 2020, some might say that wasn’t too bad. After all, most churches’ giving has stabilized. I think it’s time, post-Covid, to adjust our thinking and start asking questions.
I keep asking, who’s giving that money? The faithful dug deeper to pull you out of Covid. It wasn’t lost that people were getting saved and suddenly starting to tithe. Yes, this is harsh, but I want you to think. Where did it come from? What age groups gave the most? Was it led by Boomers who are nearing retirement? Did it come from members actively involved in in-person worship or someone who connects online?
We have found that the top 15% of donors in the churches we have analyzed gave this money, not new attendees. The vast majority of that 15% is above the age of sixty. In rural churches, that average age reaches into the high seventies. Our top donors are aging out. This is both a large and small church problem.
What’s my point, and where am I going with this? When I see results like what the SBC put up in 2022, it proves yes, you can go back! There isn’t anything you did in December of 2019 that you couldn’t do today. People have changed, but our patterns of normalcy are slowly returning. We hug necks and shake hands in Oklahoma. My church passes an offering bucket by me every Sunday. So, yes, you can go back. It might be different, but it isn’t impossible.
By the way, the SBC stats I shared were positive ones. What I left out is the fact that they are bleeding out members and losing hundreds of churches. The SBC, like all denominations, faces some stiff winds ahead as Boomers move off.
Let me end with something I wrote last year about rebounding from Covid.
The Christ Church Example – Last year, Christ Church, outside of Saint Louis MO, increased the number of donors by 16% and increased giving by 14%. During our annual review of their giving, I inquired of Alan Prass, Christ Church’s Executive Director, to what he attributed this growth. He said, “We feel that Christ Church has made the correct decisions by starting on-site worship services earlier rather than later and not making COVID our primary concern. We are in the middle of a revival, and it is a fantastic place to be.”
The Secret Sauce for Post-Covid Success and the Road Back to Normalcy – Here is what Christ Church did that you can do.
- They hold a high view of Scripture and preach and teach the Bible unapologetically. People are looking for answers, and we have the book of answers, the Bible. Pastor Shane Bishop preaches biblical sermons that people flock to hear.
- They made connecting people to Jesus their number one priority. They did not make COVID their primary concern.
- They had a solid base of givers. Yes, giving has stabilized, but existing donors drive it. Are you building a solid base for the future and any potential crisis? The stewardship seeds planted today will bring a harvest in the future.
- They opened their doors early and allowed people to use their common sense.
Pastor, it’s past time to return to normalcy by opening your church up and start passing the plate!
Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach