Our sleuths have searched far and wide to gather a list of church trends every church should be aware of. But we didn’t stop here. As you read through our list of trends, we’ve included a few tips, along with links to resources to help your church adapt to the latest trends.
Trend 1: Few Churchgoers Actually Tithe
Most churchgoers give something, but when it comes to the traditional tithe of 10%, many givers fall short of the mark. Only 5% of churchgoers give the traditional 10% tithe (Church Development). There are several church trends that correlate with the falling amounts of tithers. In fact, most of the following 11 trends could help explain the drop. However, one of the biggest culprits for the drop is simply greater competition.
When tithing was more common, there weren’t many other charities requesting resources, and those charities only had limited access to the masses. Today, there are thousands of charities for all sorts of causes, and each one can reach potential givers across great distances. Because your givers have a limited amount of resources, they can only give to those they hold most dear. This means churches might not get the full portion of each individual’s tithe.
Churches need to show their givers the good they create through donations. This can involve showing images and sharing stories of those who have been helped by a church mission. Or explaining exactly what their donations bought, whether it is for routine building upkeep, community events or missions. This sort of transparency proves to members that the church is handling funds effectively, and the personal stories showing the impact donations made inspires givers, making them feel a part of something greater.
Trend 2: Location Matters
Depending on your church’s location or locations, you might be more or less immune to some of the downward church giving trends. The Southeast and Southwest regions have a greater percentage of people who describe themselves as somewhat religious or very religious. According to Gallup, nearly 75% of people in the Southeast and Southwest describe themselves as either very religious or somewhat religious. While churches on the West Coast and within the New England region are much less likely to describe themselves as either somewhat or very religious. In New England, only 52% of people describe themselves as somewhat or very religious. And on the West Coast that number is only a little higher at 57%.
Regardless of your location and how susceptible your area is to the changing trends in church giving, the solution is the same. Churches will need to become a little more versatile, particularly with their marketing, as they compete with secular organizations for individuals’ attentions, donations and time.
At Vanco, we’ve been helping the faith community adapt to the latest trends in church giving for more than 20 years, which is why we completed a whitepaper to help them better adapt. You can download the whitepaper here.
Trend 3: More Donors Are Women
Traditionally, donors were usually men. In most parts of the world, the primary donors are still men according to Nonprofit Tech for Good’s survey of thousands of givers across the globe. But the trend is changing across America. According to the survey, women throughout North America make up three quarters of the donors (Nonprofit Tech for Good).
This church giving trend, along with many others, will require adjustments in how you communicate, and one of the best ways to do that is with marketing personas. If you’re not familiar with the concept of marketing personas, Buffer does a great job summarizing everything you need to know to begin creating personas for your church.
Businesses and nonprofits have used marketing personas to great success, along with several other strategies usually reserved for private industry. Because nonprofits have demonstrated success by using the same marketing principles of a business, we created a guide of six business practices that can help churches with their stewardship. In it you’ll find advice for creating a marketing plan, which will help you better use your marketing personas.
Trend 4: Most Donations Go to Faith and Religious Services
The current outlook for charitable donations going to churches and faith organizations is good. According to a Philanthropy Outlook study, 49% of the population gave to religious organizations. Additionally, a Giving USA study found faith and religious services to account for the largest percentage of charitable gifts at 29%. The next closest was education at 14%.
Trend 5: Total Share of Faith Donations Is Declining
For decades, faith institutions have been at the top when it comes to the share of total donations, a positive church giving trend. But that’s changing quickly. Between 1990 and 2015 the share of overall donations going to faith dropped by 50% (New York Times). And for the first time ever, faith giving fell below 30% of the total donations in Giving USA’s study.
Unfortunately, these numbers will likely trend downward in the near future. Faith giving is highly dependent on individual givers. In 2018, the share of donations from individual givers dropped below 70% for the first time since 1954 (Giving USA). It’s possible that the share of individual donations will remain stagnant or continue to drop due to changes in the 2018 tax law. Early indications have shown that changes in the standard deduction amount has reduced the number of people who itemize their donations, which decreases their incentive to give.
We’ve been aware of the downward trend in overall church giving for quite some time and have been proactive in helping the 22,000 churches we work with. We’ve interviewed some of our most successful churches and have found six online giving tips for churches in the know. We also created a 27-page guide to help improve your church’s stewardship programs with information on pledge drives, estate giving and more.
Trend 6: Religious Givers Give More than Non-Religious Givers
The overall outlook of future faith donations remains strong despite some of the latest church giving trends. One reason for optimism is that giving is a core value within faith communities. People of faith tend to give more than those that are unaffiliated. According to Philanthropy Daily, 62% of religious households give to charity compared to 46% of unaffiliated households.
Trend 7: Older Generations Give the Most to Faith
Elders and Baby Boomers are the most likely of any of the generations to identify as Christians. Barna found that only slightly less than two thirds of millennials identify as Christians compared to more than 80% of Boomers and Elders. That’s why it isn’t much of a surprise that the two generations give the most. On average, Baby Boomers alone give $613 more each year than donors under 40 (Philanthropy daily).
Having such high participation from older generations is encouraging, but it brings to light two concerns. The first and most immediate is legacy gifts. As your members age, they’ll want to ensure the church that supported them in life continues to support others after they’re gone. This is already requiring church staff to learn how to handle donations from IRA and 401(k) accounts, and it will require some additional knowledge to process and accept legacy gifts.
The second concern, and perhaps the biggest, is how to ensure your church isn’t entirely reliant on the oldest generations for support. In our eBook, 4 Action Plans to Reach Your Givers Today, we explain the four key demographics of any church and the actions you need to take to for a healthy financial future.
Trend 8: Churches Aren't Attracting Millennials
Fewer Millennials identify or practice as Christians than any other generation, and when it comes to church membership, they are far below any other generation. Only 42% of Millennials are members of a church, which is more than 20% below Elders, who have the highest membership rates (Barna). Church dropout rates for adults 18 to 29 years old have also risen from 59% to 64% since 2011 (Barna).
The lack of youth joining churches is concerning for the future of any congregation, but there’s no reason to panic.
We’ve seen thousands of churches draw younger crowds to their doors by making a few alterations to their services. We’ve also seen churches successfully encourage giving from these young donors, which led us to create a helpful guide that offers 5 tips to reach millennial givers.
Trend 9: Church Membership Is Down
From 1998 to 2018, church membership dropped from 69% to 52% (Gallup). This might seem like grave news, but it isn’t for churches willing to adapt. Most U.S. adults still believe in God, they simply don’t belong to the church.
One of the main reasons for this is a drop in religious preference. 89% of Elders, also known as Traditionalists, have a religious preference. The numbers drop for each of the following generations, particularly with Millennials, only 68% have a religious preference (Gallup). This means there’s more openness among younger churchgoers when it comes to choosing a new sect or religion than the one they grew up with. In times past, believers generally stuck to the sect of the church they grew up in. Today, churches have a unique opportunity to draw in a wider set of visitors.
It is up to each church to make sure these new visitors feel welcomed. Unfortunately, most churches don’t have a strategy for assimilating visitors, which is why 91% of them won’t return. However, when churches commit to simple strategies like following up with visitors, the chances visitors will return rise significantly. Tony Morgan, a leadership coach for pastors, has found 90% of church visitors will return if someone follows up with them the same day. Even if you can’t follow up with the new visitor the day of their initial visit, it still pays to reach out. 60% will come back if the follow up occurs days after the visit.
One of the main reasons people look to join a new church is to feel the greater connection that comes from a faith community. These visitors want to feel like they belong in this new community and the best way to do that is to take the extra steps necessary to make them feel welcomed.
Because we understand growing membership is a major concern of the tens of thousands of churches we work with, we created a guide to help nurture a sense of belonging among visitors. This guide gives three important methods to connect with givers. It also offers a methodology for conducting a survey and includes samples. Churches can use the survey to engage with new visitors and better understand how to welcome them into your community.
Trend 10: Church Attendance Is Dropping
In the last 20 years the number of people who attend church regularly, every week or nearly every week, has dropped significantly. According to a Gallup study, the number of people regularly attending has dropped by 13%. Even worse, the number of people who seldomly attend or never attend has risen from 40% in 2000 to 54% in 2019.
This trend is the reason for a lot of empty pews on Sunday services, and it negatively impacts the financial stewardship of thousands of churches. When individuals frequently attend religious services, the likelihood they’ll give increases greatly. People who regularly attend services give an average of $1,737 more to religion each year than those who do not even attend once a month and are 11 times more likely to donate (Philanthropy Daily).
Although falling attendance isn’t likely to go away for most churches, it doesn’t have to negatively impact financial stewardship. Although members are unable to attend as regularly as they had in the past, they still want to support the church. They simply get preoccupied and don’t remember write out their check and send it in. That’s why more churches turn to recurring giving. 45% of Christians worldwide are enrolled in a monthly giving program (Nonprofit Tech for Good 2018 Trends in Giving Report).
Trend 11: eGiving Adoption Is Growing
The day of the collection plate is waning. Of course, many churches still pass the plate during offerings, but it isn’t the only way churches accept donations thanks to one of the biggest trends in church giving: eGiving. Through eGiving, churches can donate online, through a text, on a mobile app, through a kiosk or with portable card reader. And setting up recurring giving is a cinch through many of these giving methods.
There are several reasons why savvy churches have transitioned into eGiving. First, people simply have less cash on them. A US Bank study found 76% of people don’t carry more than $50 on them at any given time. Another trend in giving is that fewer people write checks. A recent Federal Reserve study found the total number of check payments within the U.S. dropped by 58.8% from 2000 to 2018. It’s no wonder why churchgoers worldwide prefer some type of online giving. 62% of Millennials, 59% of Gen Xers and 59% of Baby Boomers prefer to give online (Nonprofit Tech for Good).
Setting up more methods of eGiving may seem cumbersome, but it’s worth it. In the decades we’ve worked with churches, one of the most persistent truths of faith giving is when churches make donations easy, they receive more gifts. And setting up eGiving isn’t difficult at all. At Vanco, we give each church their own eGiving consultant to coach them through the process of not only collecting donations, but also simplifying their accounting and records in the process.
Whether you’re thinking about setting up eGiving or not, it’s good to have a plan before you start. That’s why we made a launch timeline, a launch checklist and 10 questions to ask before creating an eGiving program.
Trend 12: Churchgoers Contribute Outside of Traditional Services
Churches shouldn’t forget about fundraisers. 62% of Christians worldwide plan to attend fundraising events in the next year (Nonprofit Tech for Good). That means your church’s bake sale, yard sale, suppers or other events can have major impacts on improving your financial stewardship. Whatever fundraising event your church settles on, you’ll want to ensure it’s easy for them to contribute. That’s why more churches have begun to rely on credit card swipers that can easily plug into their phones or tablets. Several churches will also use a giving kiosk.
Embracing the Changes
Interest in joining and supporting a church isn’t going away. 89% of people believe in God or a universal spirit (Gallup). Many of those folks will be looking toward churches to fulfill their spiritual needs for decades to come.
For churches to receive the support of this 89%, they will need to recognize the changing needs of churchgoers and adjust. To help you make the adjustments you need for the future, we’ve created an extensive library with hundreds of free resources.
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