Churchgoer giving study: new findings, new surprises

By Richard Bauer

Vanco Payment Solutions released the results of its second groundbreaking survey of churchgoers’ attitudes, preferences, and behaviors toward electronic giving late last year.

In August, an online survey of more than 1,000 U.S. Christian churchgoers was conducted, similar to the one used in the organization’s original research two years before. The results continue to show that churchgoers hold significant preferences for electronic giving.

Since that original survey in 2015, results have been shared to help churches offer members the giving methods they want. What was discovered didn’t always match up with expectations, and there are more surprises in the new report.

Older adults embrace eGiving — While preferences for eGiving remain strong across all age groups, they’re much stronger among older adults than they were in 2015:

Ages 45-54: 62% prefer eGiving, compared to 50% in 2015

Ages 66-74: 58% prefer eGiving, compared to 39% in 2015

What does this mean for churches? In recent years, most people have become comfortable completing tasks online, including banking and paying bills online and with their smartphones.

More people are giving less often — A decline in weekly church attendance has also led to a decline in weekly giving. Almost half of churchgoers made weekly offerings in 2015, but only about one-third do now. That has led to an increase in the percentage of churchgoers who give less frequently:

Once a month: 23%, up from 20% in 2015

Every 2-3 months: 12%, up from 6% in 2015

Every six months: 8%, up from 2% in 2015

These results indicate that churches need to align giving options, engagement strategies, and resources with the way churchgoers live.

Surprises from millennials — It’s no surprise that churchgoers in the 25-34 age group express the strongest preference for eGiving, but they’re also most likely to contribute more of their annual income to the church and to engage in church activities outside of worship services.

Click here for an informative “Fact Sheet,”
including survey highlights.

Millennials’ giving is influenced by Bible teachings and their feelings of responsibility to family and church, and they happily commit to causes they believe in. The activities they favor are more personal in nature and help them forge strong connections with their church and with the community.

Their giving is also influenced by the options they have available since they rely on debit and credit cards and their smartphones to make purchases.

For more insights that can help you offer your congregation the giving options they prefer, get the full report, Churchgoer Giving Study: Comparison of preferences and trends for 2015-2017.

Richard Bauer is eGiving Ambassador at Vanco Payment Solutions.

Successful governance on church teams

Barna partnered with Pepperdine University to explore leadership ties and governance. Pastors, at 60%, are mostly responsible for executing the vision of the church, and 35% are part of a team that does this together. 80% have a board of elders (or laypeople) that they report to. When it comes to attitudes towards this governing group, 67% say that the board is “hugely supportive” of them as a pastor, and that this relationship provides “healthy accountability,” at 60%. 57% believe they have “a clear and shared vision and values.” Indications of weakness in relationships are present in the fact that pastors less frequently categorize their partnerships with elders as “powerful” (44%), or that they engage in “frequent prayer together” (34%). Pastors in growing congregations were likely to feel they had a “powerful” relationship with elders at a higher rate than pastors in smaller or shrinking congregations.

Pastors who felt satisfied with their church ministry were also more likely to report a positive relationship with their governing board. Pastors who did not feel satisfied with their ministry also tended use negative terms to describe their relationship with elders. Some of these aspects are described as “unclear areas of decision-making authority” (42% vs 18% of all pastors), while 39% of dissatisfied pastors listed “power struggles” as an issue, with 12% of all pastors describing this as an issue. Dissatisfied pastors also stated, at 19% to 4% of all pastors, that the pastor-elder dynamic was “one of the worst parts of ministry.”

Barna identified a parallel trend between its “risk metrics” for pastors who are high risk for burnout, and having positive connections such as a growing church, healthy leadership teams, and a healthy pastor.

Calling to ministry

According to research from Barna, 53% of pastors felt their call to ministry between the ages of 14 and 21. In a study conducted by Barna, in partnership with Pepperdine, the present status of “calling” was examined, to see if pastors still felt confident in their call to ministry. 31% of senior pastors felt the same about their calling, or “just as confident,” while 66% said they felt even “more confident” in their calling than they did at the time it occurred. The 3% that felt “less confident” were often part of a church with declining attendance, younger in age, or part of a mainline denomination.

Confidence in calling was tied to satisfaction in a pastor’s work and with their current ministry. Those who were less satisfied with these aspects had more doubt in their calling, while those who were confident often were very satisfied in one (or both) areas.

Despite a largely confident response, 58% of pastors have said they felt “inadequate for their ministry or calling” in the past three months. 12% felt this way frequently, while 45% felt this way sometimes. This was felt the most by pastors who had declining attendance in their churches.

Researchers also focused on how feelings of being “energized by ministry work,” related to confidence in calling, and, negatively, feelings of ministry inadequacy. Those who currently felt “less confident” in their calling did not feel energized by their work. They also felt inadequate for their calling more frequently.


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