Revenue sharply down in many NC churches as 5th month of shutdown nears

Online giving and PPP loans help prevent layoffs, closings

Stained glass windows in small church with wood pews

RALEIGH — When Gov. Roy Cooper announced a statewide shutdown beginning March 30, it effectively stopped church services in the state until further notice and eliminated what is a main source of revenue for most churches, passing the collection plate. The restrictions have since been relaxed, but many churches have not returned to in-person services, while others have reduced-capacity services. Online donations, as well as the Paycheck Protection Program, have become lifelines for these churches but have not been able to fully replace lost revenue.

“In the first month of the COVID-19-related shutdown, parish offertory in the Diocese of Raleigh — the largest source of any parish’s income — was off 50% vs. the prior year,” John Dornan, director of communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, told North State Journal.

The Raleigh Diocese serves Catholics in the eastern half of the state while the Charlotte Diocese serves the western half. Information provided to NSJ by Charlotte Diocese shows that “over the first three weeks of canceled Masses, offertory collections diocese-wide are down approximately 40 percent from the same period last year, the diocese’s Finance Office reports.”

The Charlotte Diocese said online giving has been able to replace plate collections as the main source of their collection, with three-quarters of their 92 parishes having implemented these tools, but it has not been enough to match previous years. Churches that have proactive campaigns reaching out to parishioners by mail, phone and other means to ask them to give online are having more success than those who simply set up the online system without follow-up.

The Charlotte Diocese highlighted the outreach efforts of Queen of the Apostles Church in Belmont, which have “resulted in increased online giving, and to date, parishioners are giving at about 85 percent of the regular collection amount before the pandemic hit.”

While this 15% decline is a success story, other parishes in the diocese are not as fortunate, as “more than a dozen parishes have seen a steep decline in their weekly offertory amounts, receiving 50 percent or less compared to their collections in April 2019.”

The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina told NSJ it does not share financial information, but it did share that its congregations “continue to gather and worship utilizing a multitude of online methods,” and “no churches in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina are facing closure as a result of the pandemic.” It also said it is utilizing online giving as best it can.

“Many of our churches have their own online giving methods already. For those who don’t, and even to support those who do, the Diocese set up a link for anyone to be able to donate to a particular diocesan church,” Christine McTaggart, communications director for the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, told NSJ. “It has been helpful, especially for churches who moved into the world of online worship because of the pandemic.”

In the Raleigh Catholic Diocese, Dornan said, “Online giving has increased over time as people have adapted to virtual Masses and, in some cases, returned to in-person Masses. Church offertory overall remains significantly down, however, from 2019 levels.” 

Dornan also added that government relief funds assisted many churches.

“For many parishes, the Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal Small Business Administration brought significant, welcome relief,” he said. “The Diocese of Raleigh applied for and received forgivable payroll protection loans for its central offices and smaller parishes and schools, and the diocese also assisted several larger parishes and schools which applied directly through their local banks.”

He said these loans, which totaled more than $12 million, kept 3,000 staff members employed across their 97 parishes and more than 30 schools and campus ministry offices “during this period of significantly declining revenues.”