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Financial sustainability during COVID-19

It goes without saying that as a Church, our first concern is for all of God’s people – those sick, those caring for others, and all those who are finding isolation and a disruption to the rhythm of life unsettling and uncomfortable. Within these troubling and uncertain times, many clergy will have a leading role in frontline care for everyone in their communities. It is therefore vital that as church officers and PCCs we take all reasonable and appropriate steps to secure regular financial giving, and to support their churches and this ministry.

Things have become very serious amid this current shutdown around our world. There are many fears, worries and concerns about our future as individuals, families and church communities. What we must not do is panic. There are many people having their own battles to come through this, but if we approach the issues together and in the open, our hope is – with much prayer and God’s help – that we will get through this.

One of the many matters of prayerful and practical concern facing churches in the current crisis is financial sustainability. Many churches will experience a double income shock, which will exacerbate cash flow problems:

  • Severe disruption to Sunday and midweek offerings whilst churches remain closed for public worship. (For most churches, direct giving plus Gift Aid is the largest income stream, and to a great or lesser extent should not be affected.)
     
  • Loss of trading/rental income from groups using church properties for an uncertain period, with the risk that some may not return. Fundraising events will be curtailed for a season, and there will be a loss of income from weddings and funerals whilst our churches remain closed.

All churches will feel the loss of these income streams.

Churches that have engaged significantly with the Parish Giving Scheme (PGS) should be better placed to weather this financial storm with regular monthly giving and Gift Aid reclaim. Although lacking the flexibility and function of the PGS, churches with standing orders should also benefit from regular giving unaffected by the temporary suspension of public worship.

However, those churches that are heavily dependent on cash collections and weekly envelopes are especially vulnerable.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” – Isaiah 40:31

A recent blog said: “None of us can predict the future but we can draw strength from what we do know. Worry is not our friend and panic is not our way”. We know there are no easy answers, no simple solutions. We know that fear, panic or despair can overwhelm us. We know that our God is faithful but facing these challenges will draw on our reserves of faith and trust in God, on our deep wells of prayer, the commitment of God’s faithful people, and on our willingness to embrace change. As Archbishop Justin Welby has said: “We are still doing church – it just looks different”. We are still disciples, still called to give – it just looks different.

We have previously provided guidance focusing on parish share, the use of reserves and steps for parishes in difficulty. This guidance is about the action local churches can take to sustain their ministry and mission. Not every action will work for every church member but there are options here which can (and should be) explored.

Share the need – ask for support

People cannot act if they don’t know there is a problem. Our churches face the same financial challenges as businesses and families. We have channels of communication – old and new – for pastoral care and administration: websites, email, WhatsApp, closed Facebook groups and more. Use these communication channels to inform church members of the very real financial challenges we face.

Ask God’s people to pray and to act. In whatever way people give, by the Parish Giving Scheme, by standing order or by weekly envelope, ask folks who are able to consider increasing their giving.

Sensitivity is important! For some, uncertainty, job insecurity or very low income makes this very difficult. Any communication should acknowledge this.

Remember that this is not an inappropriate request. Allow God to surprise you by how many will step up in support of their church and their Christian friends:

  • PGS givers can easily increase their monthly gifts by emailing info@parishgiving.org.uk or phoning 0333 002 1260.
     
  • Standing order givers can amend their gift online or via telephone banking. Mary Driver can help in this – feel free to contact her at mary.driver@peterborough-diocese.org.uk.
     
  • Those with access to internet banking can make direct donations. They will need to have the required bank details – the name of the church bank account, sort code, account number and the name of the bank. Ask folks to add their name to the payment reference so that you can record the gift and claim Gift Aid if you hold a declaration.
     
  • Envelope givers can still use and set aside their weekly giving envelopes (see below).

Make full use of the Parish Giving Scheme (PGS)

Regular planned giving is vital to sustain ministry and mission. The Direct Debit-based Parish Giving Scheme is the most efficient and effective way to give to the local church. To find out more, contact our Stewardship Officer via paul.adams@peterborough-diocese.org.uk.

Churches that are registered with the PGS should encourage church members to join the Scheme. Your local church representative or treasurer will be able to post PGS gift forms (the address is on the form). Parish PGS officers can also request more forms from the Stewardship Team as needed.

For churches not registered with the PGS:

  • You can contact Paul Adams at paul.adams@peterborough-diocese.org.uk and request a parish registration form. Once complete, email it back to Pete along with a bank paying-in slip to verify your church bank account details.
     
  • Once registered, we will print and send you the individual gift and Direct Debit form. Church members can then join the Scheme by completing a PGS gift form and returning it directly to the PGS office in Gloucester. You will need to let us know how many forms you want.
     
  • Please bear in mind these forms cost money, so please get enough to supply those who will realistically join from your churches (giving them out to whole village communities just in case they might complete one is not economic or ecological).

Our existing standing order planned giving scheme is closing on 31st December 2020

We have set a deadline to close our existing scheme at the end of this year. However, at this time of uncertainty, this deadline may now have to change. We will assess the situation and make a decision on that once we are all back in our church buildings, worshipping together.

If you give to your parish using the diocesan standing order scheme, you will need to change to another form of planned giving as soon as is practically possible.

If you don’t give in a planned way – for example, you give on the plate or through envelopes – we encourage you to consider setting up a Direct Debit agreement. It is far more effective and efficient. It means your PCC knows where the church is at financially at the beginning of each month.

The current coronavirus crisis has highlighted the need for planned giving. Naturally, if we have to stop going to church for reasons such as those that confront us today, our churches will lose some of their income. However, our incumbents will still be ministering in the communities they serve – although not quite as visibly.

It is good to reflect on the responsibility we have as Christians to fund the ministry of Jesus in our parishes. Scripture tells us the need to give with a joyful heart. If we look to Luke 8:1–3, we see the onset of the early Church. Jesus is going around preaching with his disciples. We are told that some women, out of their own means, are funding this ministry.

In reality, if they had not taken the responsibility then, our churches would not perhaps be here today. Because of their commitment, we can carry on the ministry of Jesus today. It is now our turn to carry that responsibility.

Weekly envelopes

Where church members continue to give by weekly envelope, it is more vital than ever before that church members use their envelopes wisely and as intended. Remind and encourage folk to:

a)      put their gift in their envelope, seal it and set it aside weekly

b)      make arrangements for envelopes to be collected at reasonable intervals if possible (according to current government guidelines)

c)      inform people when the church might become open for private prayer in the future (where applicable), and that they can bring their envelopes at those times

d)      ensure that someone is able to place gifts in the church safe or a secure place (in the future).

Cash donations

A few church members may not have bank accounts and therefore use cash. Many more use envelopes or gift cash on the offering plate and may have done so for many years. Reluctance to change is understandable but the hard truth is that it can imperil the financial sustainability of our Church.

This is not business as usual – we cannot just tweak how we do things. It will require adaptation, change, new ways of thinking and acting around generous giving.

When churches are open again for personal prayer and a quiet space for visitors, ensure that cash donations can be received. This may involve using a wall safe or offering box. If a church officer or volunteer is on duty, give thought to security and to emptying a wall safe, and how gifts can be placed in the church safe as well as arrangements for banking. Naturally and importantly, we must also give thought to the security of volunteers staffing an open church whether money is being donated or not.

Other ways to give:

Online giving platforms (See this advice sheet from Parish Resources)

Lots of options for online giving are listed here  https://www.parishbuying.org.uk/categories/giving-and-payments/online-giving.

Websites such as Just Giving (https://www.justgiving.com/) or Give.net (https://www.give.net/) enable online donations to your church.

  1. If you are registered with an online giving service, ensure that your giving button or giving page is easily found on your church website.
     
  2. There is usually a small fee involved in this type of giving, but it is well worth it to have the additional method for people to give to your church.
     

Digital giving via a card reader

Churches with card readers can use them for donations both in the church building (once they are open again) and also importantly when you are at home – visit www.parishbuying.org.uk. A large range of options exist when buying car readers, but this is what you need to consider:

  • Ensure your card reader is visible and accessible with good signage
     
  • Take any necessary precautions for the security of the hardware
     
  • Those on duty in open churches should be familiar with the process, and able to reassure those who wish to make a contactless or Chip and PIN gift.

Free donations software from Data Developments Ltd

Data Developments Ltd are offering FREE donations software to support churches at this time and to encourage donors to keep donating, and also to help others to be able to set up websites or a donation button on their website. You can read more about this offer here.

And finally...

We are in unprecedented times – the world around us is in turmoil. What we have within our faith is an assurance that God really does care for us and provides everything that we need. The Church is us – the people. How we show our faith matters. Planned giving is the way forward – we can no longer rely on sporadic plate giving. We encourage your church to look at how it gives – we are to be good stewards of all that we have.

The diocesan stewardship team is happy to work with you. We all share the same responsibility, so it is important to tackle together the current position we find ourselves in today. We need to continue asking God what we need to do. That may require changes from our churches or us as individuals.

Please be assured that we are praying for our church communities, and we are here and willing to engage with the problems and the blessings that will come from this situation.

Thank you

Paul Adams
Stewardship Officer
07720 388894 / paul.adams@peterborough-diocese.org.uk