The financial impacts of COVID-19 on United Methodist Churches in North Carolina: a qualitative study of pastors’ perspectives and strategies.


Background: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches in the United States were forced to stop meeting in person and move to remote forms of worship and congregational life. This shift likely impacted congregational finances, which are primarily driven by individual donations. Initial research has suggested that there is a great deal of heterogeneity in the financial impact on congregations, but there has been scant research examining how pastors and congregations are managing finances during this period. Purpose: This research examines the impact of COVID-19 and its associated restrictions on congregational finances and the strategies pastors used to adapt their church’s finances to the health restrictions. Methods: We conducted in-depth, qualitative interviews with 50 pastors in the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church appointed to 70 congregations. Using applied thematic analysis, we analyzed transcripts at both the pastor and congregation-level to identify similarities and differences in financial impact, financial strategies, and pastor experiences during the pandemic. Results: Most congregations reported small decreases in giving that were offset by federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and other grants from the denomination. Some congregations, mostly urban and fairly large, reported significant increases in giving, while several other, predominantly small congregations, reported their church’s finances had been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Even in cases where the net impact of the pandemic was small or non-existent, pastors were forced to adopt a host of new strategies to manage finances. In general, small and large congregations experienced and responded to the financial impact of the pandemic very differently.and Implications. Conclusions: This research suggests that the pandemic’s impact on congregational finances were more than just on the bottom line. And while most churches weathered the economic challenges without severe impacts, questions remain as to the long-term impact of the pandemic on church finances.

Review of Religious Research