Bringing you observations regarding recent developments in church attendance, giving and facilities from the perspective of two church specialists in the field.
Charles Klein, President of Impact Stewardship, has assisted churches with their stewardship development and capital fundraising needs for expansion for over 20 years.
Scott McReynolds is the Managing Partner for Church Property Group. With over 20 years in the ministry and various non-profits, Scott has a keen insight to the needs of religious institutions.
Chuck: Covid19 has certainly changed how we do “church”? There is a lot of conventional wisdom out there and different theories. Since Scott and I are in contact with so many churches across the country on a daily basis, I thought it would be beneficial for church leaders to get a glimpse at what we have seen over the past several months and how churches are reacting to their benefit.
Scott: Covid19, not only took a toll on our way of life, but it changed how we do church. Like most congregations, when churches couldn’t meet in person, everyone went to on-line churches. Some have seen their on-line presence continue to affect their on-site presence due to extended closures.
Chuck: The churches who locked down the hardest and longest are definitely finding it the hardest to get their people back. Obviously, everyone had to lockdown for a period of time. However, I am finding the churches who really embraced a least restrictive model are thriving. There is a vast segment of the church population that desires to meet in person and felt isolated. Depending on the area of the country, some were quarantined for extended periods and those are the ones craving connection. In fact, I am currently working with Living Stones Church in Crown Point, IN. Their attendance is currently double their pre-Covid19 numbers because they adapted this least restrictive model. Their attendance went through the roof to 1100. People are craving connection and relationship.
Scott: Exactly. And there is a certain segment, let’s call it 25%-35% on average that will probably continue to watch online if given the opportunity.
Chuck: That’s what I am seeing. This segment was not attending every Sunday before Covid19. The key for churches is to understand this and respond accordingly. How do they keep these individuals connected if they try to gravitate to online and only come sporadically in-person? Life groups and other programming outside of Sunday AM will need to grow.
Scott: Although it sounds counter intuitive, some of these folks in this group may become more connected because they do watch more frequently online during the pandemic. In the past, they may have only been coming occasionally so although their physical presence may not be counted, they are very much more engaged.
Chuck: This is one of the opportunities for the church in the future. Now they have an online presence to more fully engage that segment. Also, one thing Covid19 has done is exposed some cracks in the financial foundation of churches. Let’s discuss some of the financial implications of Covid19 for churches.
Scott: As you mentioned to me, churches that were struggling pre-Covid19 are seeing increased challenges. Churches that went into Covid19 strong are weathering the storm.
Chuck: I’m surprised at the number of churches that not only stayed financial stable last year but saw increased giving in 2021. It’s pretty miraculous. It also tells me that these churches are doing things right. One of the ways I’ve been able to help churches during the past year, is to help them understand their deficiencies (and strengths). I’ve developed a Stewardship Health Assessment for churches that basically helps them to analyze all of their stewardship practices and procedures and compare it to those being implemented by highly successful churches. It looks at what they are doing well, what they could be doing better and what they aren’t doing at all. It’s designed for immediate impact.
Scott: That’s interesting. Church giving has taken a hit especially over the last few years. There were many churches already facing tough decisions, but the pandemic has made those decisions even harder now. Many churches are looking for ways to generate additional revenue. They are looking at their facilities and wondering what they can do differently.
Chuck: What do you see as the forecast for church property and facilities in general?
Scott: Many churches will have to take a hard look at what they are doing with their existing facilities or undeveloped land/property. There are incredible ways that churches can creatively generate revenue from their underutilized facilities or unused property. This is my area of expertise. In one instance, a local church was in an old part of their town. They were land locked and could not grow as a congregation. We introduced them to a major grocery store chain and they bought their property. With the proceeds, they were able to relocate to another location and build a new facility. They are now growing and reaching more of their city with the Gospel. Also, we were approached by a congregation with excess undeveloped land. With them, we were able to bring a Senior Adult Living developer to them. They sold the land, participate in the revenue stream of the rentals, as well having a thriving ministry to the Seniors in that complex.
Chuck: Thinking outside the box. Many churches meeting in venues like schools and theaters were caught shortsighted by the Covid19 lockdown and had nowhere to meet for extended periods of time at the mercy of their property-owner’s enforced rules. As a result, many churches are now looking to leave their temporary space and find a permanent home.
Scott: Some larger commercial spaces have been vacated over the last few years. Obviously, there is an incredible opportunity for these churches in the current commercial real estate market. Property-owners want a signed long-term lease and the church can get into a facility at a great rate with long-term security.
Chuck: The best part is that the church can often renovate the space for a fraction of the cost of purchasing and make it their own space. We’ve conducted capital campaigns that easily pay for these enhancements in only 2-3 years and often the amount of rent for the new facility consistent with what these churches have been paying to rent a school/theater and pay for a separate office space for staff. Ultimately, the church can always make an offer on the building to purchase if the owner is ready to sell in the future.
Scott: Exactly, and in the end, the church can always offer a letter of intent at a future time and make an offer on the building to purchase if the owner is ready to sell. We see a lot of these relationships develop especially in warehouses or big box/office space. With Covid, people are working remote which leaves a lot of buildings empty. I think that we will see a surplus of spaces in the commercial area over the next 12-18 months
Chuck: This has been a great way for churches to get into their first facility. This has really been the largest area of interest I’ve seen over the past 10 months.
Scott: There are definitely new opportunities there for churches to create momentum going into the new year and beyond.
Chuck: If any of this resonates with our readers, we can help. If your church needs a stewardship health assessment, desires to assess revenue generating opportunities for your facilities or planning to get into a permanent facility, we partner with churches to plan these strategies. Contact us for more info.
To connect with Scott, reach him at this link: http://concordcommercialrealty.com/staff/scott-mcreynolds/