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New Report Shows “Remarkable Resilience” from Churches and Ministries Entering 2021

Last Thursday, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) released a new research report titled “Remarkable Resilience” based on over 1,200 survey responses from churches and non-profits.

“Your church or non-profit ministry has never been more needed, and God has used your prayers, flexibility, and resiliency to touch lots of people as you’ve kept focus on your God-given mission,” said Warren Bird, ECFA’s VP of Research and Equipping.

This report is the fourth in a series tracking the pandemic’s financial impact, specifically on churches and ministries. Despite the challenges of 2020, ranging from impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to a divisive national election in the U.S. to heightened racial tensions in the U.S., pastors and non-profit leaders have navigated their churches or organizations through these circumstances with what ECFA dubs “remarkable resilience.”

“Even with all the shifts in how ministry happened, each church or nonprofit seemed to keep its God-given mission at the forefront,” Bird noted in his report. “Through it all, God’s financial provision showed up, enabling much ministry to go forward.”

This report is formatted similarly to the previous three reports in this series with each page presenting a new table. A clear headline at the top of each page gives viewers the main takeaway from the data presented on that page. The report answers questions about churches and ministries regarding their financial outlook for 2021, how 2020 ended financially, and how 2020 has caused them to adjust their expenses.

“My biggest positive surprise was the 85% finding—that so many churches and nonprofits said that 2020’s income from cash giving was almost the same, actually the same, or even better than 2019’s,” said Bird.

Only 15% of the over 1,200 respondents reported that their total cash donations for all of 2020 were more than 11% lower than they were in all of 2019. According to the data, 88% of media ministries including internet, radio, and television, reported that their 2020 income was the same, almost the same, or even better than in 2019.

Although the majority of churches and ministries did not see a significant drop in cash giving in 2020, many more of them experienced drops in other revenue. “Other revenue” includes income from facility rentals, registrations, and program fees. Of the respondents, only 67% said that their other revenue for 2020 was the same, nearly the same, or better than in 2019. Looking specifically at media ministries though, this percentage shoots up to 93% of respondents.

ECFA has been tracking financial optimism in churches and non-profits since May 2020. Last May, only 58% of respondents said that they were optimistic about total cash gifts or donations to their church or ministry. However, since that time, that percentage has risen and remained consistent. In both August and November 2020, 65% of respondents said that they were optimistic. In this latest report showing February outlook, that number came in at 64% of respondents.

Of all of the types of nonprofit ministries represented in this data, media ministries were the most optimistic group with 87% of respondents saying they were optimistic, 13% uncertain, and 0% pessimistic.

The report also shows that three quarters of respondents did not touch their cash reserves in 2020 and one third anticipated using some of their cash reserves in 2021.

In this report, Bird also looked at some questions regarding staffing and found that the majority of churches and non-profits kept their staffing levels about the same in 2020 as in 2019 and anticipates the same as they begin 2021. In fact, for media ministries, 93% of respondents reported that their staffing levels stayed the same and the other 7% reported an increase in their staffing levels.

But Bird said that his second greatest surprise from these findings was how few respondents said that they will be applying for a second Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

69% of respondents said that they do not plan on applying for a PPP loan in 2021, either because they don’t think they would qualify or for other reasons. Only 23% said that they plan to apply, and 8% reported that they were uncertain.

“The data in this report affirms that God’s financial provision can readily come even during a pandemic. It encourages ministries and churches to proceed boldly on their mission into 2021,” Bird said. “It helps ministry leaders know that they are not alone.”

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