NASHVILLE (BP) – Economic predictions were dire when most churches and businesses effectively shut down in-person operations in mid-March 2020. However, the gloomy forecasts about the effects COVID-19 would have on charitable giving as a whole didn’t pan out.
While some churches did struggle, most reported a year ago that the impact on attendance and giving wasn’t nearly as dire as anticipated in the early days of the pandemic. Thirty-two out of 41 state Baptist conventions reported more gifts through the Cooperative Program from October 2021-February 2022 than for October 2020-February 2021 – the largest number to report an increase in at least 10 years. And the giving comes at a time when churches are exceeding goals for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in vast amounts.
Comparing monthly gifts through CP from one year to the next can be tricky, with swings in reporting reflecting a number of factors such as the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions.
A delay in reporting due to a late-arriving check, for instance, would technically record zero funds received that month. But it would give a substantial boost for the following month’s reporting. The way a calendar falls also impacts reporting, as a month with five Sundays has that extra week to increase the giving total.
A more reliable view comes from noting trends over several months.
North Carolina Baptists experiencing record generosity
Giving by North Carolina Baptists has been on the upswing over the last couple of years. Gifts received through September 2021 exceeded the previous year by $1.5 million, said Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Unzicker.
The increase has also led to more ministry support in North Carolina. Recently, two ultrasound machines have been placed in underserved areas on the western and eastern sides of the state.
“North Carolina Baptists are proud to support our Great Commission partners,” Unzicker said. “Our churches believe in being a movement on mission together. We are always looking for ways to continue leveraging our talents and treasure to see the Gospel go forward.”
Nevada Baptists remain focused on cooperative missions
Nevada churches experienced stringent COVID-19 regulations throughout most of 2020. That included an attendance cap the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – regarded as the most liberal of appellate courts – eventually ruled was unfairly applied to houses of worship when compared to secular businesses and events.
“Out of obedience to keep the mission of the Gospel going during COVID, our pastors had to be creative and unique when engaging lostness,” said Damian Cirincione, Nevada Baptist Convention executive director-treasurer. “There had to be an intentionality to keep up with the flock while engaging in different ways to disciple, evangelize, worship and more, by having different avenues in inviting people into the home along with having online community groups and events to build community.”
A stronger sense of community and “buy-in” happened when people began to feel they were part of the overall mission strategy of their church, he added. That affected their generosity and giving practices to support the church, which has led to an 8.84 percent increase through CP this year.
“When it comes to CP giving in Nevada, I am excited for the upward trend that we have seen,” Cirincione said. “The main thing I attribute this to is the provision of our Heavenly Father. God in His infinite wisdom has been blessing and guiding in great ways. 2022 has started off strong in giving and as a convention, we are grateful to be a 50/50 state in CP giving. For the sake of the Gospel, I pray this upward trend continues.”
Vision and trust are key for Ohio Baptists’ giving
Jeremy Westbrook’s return to Ohio last year as its new executive director-treasurer coincided with the convention’s recent increase in Cooperative Program giving. Westbrook planted Living Hope Church in Marysville in 2008 and in 2016 joined other Ohio Baptist messengers who voted to send 50 percent of CP gifts to national SBC missions and ministry causes.
Since October, giving through the state to national CP has increased 24.58 percent compared to last year.
“Ohio Baptists have a long history of both supportive and sacrificial giving to the Cooperative Program,” he said. “I am happy to report that our CP giving is up 15 percent through the first quarter of our budget this year over last year. I believe there is a renewed sense of vision and trust in the direction we are headed – locally, nationally and internationally.”
Tennessee Baptists focus on the mission at home and abroad
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s 50 percent increase can be partly attributed to a “staged approach” to forwarding CP gifts to the Executive Committee approved by its board of directors in November 2020. It also reflects Tennessee Baptists’ commitment to Cooperative Program work and reaching the nations for Christ, said Executive Director Randy Davis.
“Tennessee Baptists are responding generously through the Cooperative Program because they understand and appreciate the SBC missions ecosystem,” he said. “We see clearly that Tennessee is a mission field itself. And because the SBC’s Great Commission flagship, the International Mission Board, is moving in a good direction under the trusted leadership of Dr. Paul Chitwood.”
The COVID-19 shutdown delivered one unexpected outcome: when people couldn’t be together in person, they found ways to help each other monetarily from a distance. That extended to churches. After a time of financial unease over the future, most congregations found financial stability by the end of last year.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the future. Gas prices hit a record high March 11 at $4.33 a gallon, and that price is almost certain to climb again this summer. Conflict in Europe, of course, also has the potential to have a major impact on the economy.
Increased giving may reflect spiritual growth in Louisiana
But those are big-picture problems. The decision to give begins with the individual. And according to Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director Steve Horn, it’s a spiritual decision.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific reason for the increase,” said Horn, whose state convention experienced a 28.57 jump in CP giving since October. “Perhaps it’s due to the winding down of the pandemic or people rejoining the workforce.
“Many of our churches have been involved in a personal revival emphasis entitled, ‘Change Me.’ While it is impossible to draw a direct correlation between the emphasis and the increase, any time a person experiences spiritual renewal, it’s not uncommon for generosity to increase.”