RNS looks for some answers and got some ideas from Protestant pastors:
The conversation among many church leaders and pastors is how COVID-19 will change how we worship and gather as congregations. There’s another question looming for many houses of worship about the post-pandemic world: How will they keep the lights on?
According to a study by Barna Group, 65% of American churches have seen a decrease in contributions during the pandemic. A staggering 1 in 5 churches may be forced to close their doors in the next 18 months, the study said.
It’s a reckoning that has been anticipated for decades as church attendance has slowly waned and Americans have steadily decreased the proportion of their charity designated to churches. Thirty years ago, about 50% of all charitable donations went to houses of worship; by the time the coronavirus struck, that number had shrunk to about 30%. Though giving to other sectors was up overall for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, donations to religious institutions dropped by a whopping $3 billion.
Mark DeYmaz, pastor of Mosaic Church in Arkansas, has been watching the trend for years. In his 2019 book, “The Coming Revolution in Church Economics,” DeYmaz declared that “tithes and offerings were no longer enough” to provide for the needs of most congregations. The pandemic, he told me recently, has only accelerated the inevitable.
The decline in giving is part of a bigger story of the American worker: It closely tracks the slow “hollowing out” of the nation’s middle class, the demographic on whose backs churches have been built and funded for generations. As wealth is increasingly concentrated among the rich, debt-stressed middle-class Americans no longer possess the means to shoulder the burden of supporting American Christianity’s sprawling infrastructure.
The pandemic, DeYmaz told me, “is serving as a long overdue and much needed wake-up call for the American church.” He predicts many churches have seven to 10 months to either “adapt or die…”
…Churches with buildings, he suggests, can turn underutilized space into a gym or a co-working space or rent to medical or legal firms. Coffee shops that rival Starbucks are not uncommon features on some church campuses: Why not let them pay rent? Disused land might be developed into a mall or office complex. An empty or underutilized parsonage could be converted into a rental property.