Christian Ministries: A Pandemic Update

christian ministries  a pandemic update

CCCC surveyed its members recently asking how they were doing so we could see how best to help them. In replying, our members shared a lot of great wisdom that other ministries could benefit from. Members told us:

  • what they think about their future viability,
  • what has worked well so far,
  • what their current challenges are, and
  • what their strategy is for getting through the rest of the pandemic.

The 267 respondents roughly reflect our membership with a 90% confidence level, 95% of the time. Here’s what we found out and what we will do about it.

Future Viability

We’ve come a long way from the crisis mode of March, April, and May when most people thought there was a real risk of losing many Christian ministries. Now, when asked how confident they are about their church or ministry surviving the pandemic, we heard:

  • 76% say that “It will be just fine”
  • 18% report they were “Unable to tell at this point”
  • 4% tell us “I have my doubts”
  • 1% admit “I am seriously concerned”
  • And 1% disclose “I don’t think it will survive”

Assuming that ministry staff have a realistic assessment of their own ministry and the probable course of the pandemic, these overall good results indicate that most ministries have adapted to the new conditions. I know from talking with people that some types of ministries are in much more difficult circumstances than others—camps, for example. But even then, two camps report they are doing okay.

Factors Affecting Confidence

Since so few people had doubts about survival, we put them all into one group, leaving us three groups to analyze:

  1. Those who think their ministry will be just fine (the “Confidents”)
  2. Those who are unable to make a determination at this point (the “Uncertains”)
  3. Those who have doubts to a greater or lesser degree (the “Doubters”)

Only four statistically significant differences between the three groups emerged, two related to the Uncertains and two related to the Doubters:

  • The Uncertains were:
    • 50% more likely to be serving people in a town,
      • The Uncertains may have a closer relationship with their donors than others and be more integrated into the daily life of the town. This close connection may help them survive.
    • 17% more likely to be a small ministry (under $300,000 total annual revenue).
      • A smaller revenue base concentrated in a single community puts the charity at the mercy of the local economy. If a dominant industry is hard-hit, the charity’s donors will lose their incomes and ability to give. This increases the risk of not making it through the pandemic.
    • It is no wonder that small charities serving towns make up more than their share of the Uncertains—there are both positive and negative factors at play.
  • The Doubters were:
    • 60% more likely to be smaller ministries in terms of revenue, with 86% having less than $300,000 total revenue. No ministry with more than $1 million in revenue doubted its viability.
      • Like the Uncertains, but to a much greater degree, Doubters are small ministries and therefore unlikely to have the reserves to survive a downturn in revenue for very long.
    • 30% more likely to have a provincial or national scope which may suggest a looser connection with their donors.
      • Unlike the Uncertains, the Doubters tend not to be as close to their donors because their donors are spread across a province or the entire country. These smaller ministries do not have the resources that others have to build strong relationships with geographically dispersed donors.
    • The Doubters have two statistically significant factors affecting their confidence level, and both are negative factors, which causes their doubt.

What’s Worked Well

Confidents, Uncertains, and Doubters all have done what people would expect them to do. They:

  • converted wherever possible to online programming.
  • increased communication through personal means such as driveway pastoral visits and phone calls.
  • Lowered expenses to match the decline in donations (which were down 10% to 30%). Churches saved a lot of expense because their buildings were not in use. Quite a few respondents said they were doing okay financially, and in some cases, doing even better than before. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program (CEWS) made a difference for a number of ministries that used it, making up for lost donations. Ministries need to prepare to replace that money when the grant program ends.
  • Many implemented alternative giving methods for the first time, and had great participation in those new methods. E-transfers were the most popular of the new giving options, but several mentioned or other giving means. Some arranged secure drop boxes for cheques or had certain hours when cheques could be dropped off at the church. Anyone still struggling with receiving donations should see the free CCCC e-publication attached to my blog post “Church Donations: Quick and easy offering plate alternatives.” That post also has instructions you can give your donors about how they can donate using an alternative to the offering plate.
  • Several camps created a new “Camp in a Box” program, similar to churches that created “VBS in a Box.”
  • While buildings were closed, many churches livestreamed their services and others taped their service through the week and uploaded it for Sunday. Now that buildings are open again, one church increased the number of worship services from one to four so everyone could attend. When the gathering limit increased, they reduced their weekly services to three.
  • A number of churches began doing new things, such as blogging, hosting a talk show, worship nights, and additional teaching times.


This quote comes from a Confident:

The giving of our community has not be [sic] determined by our PROGRAMS, but on our RELATIONSHIPS. 

Church in a city with annual revenue between $100,000 and $300,000

This small church has it right. People before programs! Those ministries that have invested years building strong relationships with people are now seeing the payoff. Don’t just serve people—love them!

These quotes are from Uncertains. It’s not just the Confidents who are navigating well through the pandemic.

Some things are in the works, but those we’ve been able to do so far include (1) strengthening our ‘under-supported missionaries’ fund 10-fold (mostly from internal donations); (2) moving more training content to a virtual platform, (3) cutting non-essential budget items, (4) virtual Orientations for candidates, (5) using Zoom for world-wide prayer mtgs once a week (appointees, Board members, int’l staff, home staff, retirees, and donors), (6) allowing office staff to continue working from home as much as they would like, (7) monthly virtual meetings with appointees and int’l staff on home assignment who find themselves “trapped” in N America, (8) calling all of our donors to thank them for their giving and letting them know about a dedicated email for prayer requests they can send to us, (9) creating a separate, more streamlined website for interested candidates.

Overseas mission with annual revenue between $1 million and $10 million

What really impressed me in this answer from a missions agency is that they didn’t try changing just one thing; they did nine things differently! Even if some changes don’t do anything for survival, there’s got to be a number of them that will end up making a difference.

We updated our website, began recording our services and posting them online. We also made it possible for our congregation to send tithes through e-transfers. We have also begun utilizing our social media site more often which is helping to get information out to more people, or even the same people multiple times.

Church in a town with annual revenue under $100,000

For those who think they are too small to make significant changes, note that this last quote comes from a church with under $100,000 in annual revenue. They did a lot of new things. I’m very inspired by this church.

Current Challenges

There is wide agreement on the current challenges that Christian ministries face. They are:

  • Public fatigue with the upheavals caused by the pandemic,
  • Inability to travel and social distancing requirements are hampering the ability to do ministry overseas and domestically,
  • How to get everyone back in church given the current limitations on gathering sizes,
  • How to do children’s and youth ministry in today’s circumstances,
  • Keeping people connected, not just with the ministry, but even more with each other,
  • Inability to find staff or volunteers,
  • How to budget in such uncertainty,
  • Donations are down,
  • Disagreements between those who want to be safe and those who insist that pandemic-related safety measures are unnecessary,
  • Keeping up with all the pandemic regulations and programs and their updates,
  • Maintaining good mental health—personally, for staff, and for the people served, including managing pastoral discouragement, and
  • Digitizing the office for remote work.

To help ministries work through these challenges, I have added a discussion thread for each one in The Green’s COVID-19 Response room. Non-members of the CCCC will need to register to access the room.

I thought these quotes from the Uncertains were worth highlighting here:

As the President of our charity, I am most challenged by these two items: 1) Discovering other leaders to learn from, even if this is an online or by phone medium. 2) A place (even if online or by phone) to “air out” questions of uncertainty due to all the changes around us; and to encourage each other’s faith in God’s care for each of us and those we serve.

Overseas mission with annual revenue between $1 million and $10 million

I highlight this quote because it reflects the very reason why I first thought CCCC should provide an online community, which is now available to members as The Green. Members can access it from their personal homepage on our website.

How to deal with people who are anti-mask and anti-policy as we begin to move back into our building. We want to follow all the guidelines required by the province, region and insurance, but also don’t want to ruin relationships in the process. I guess it boils down to how to navigate challenging conversations and conflict.

Church in a town that has annual revenue under $100,000

This is a troubling matter for many pastors and it shouldn’t be. It’s unfortunate that Christians are arguing with each other and causing division and strife within the church. What a blessing Christians could be to the world by showing how to heal the bitter divisions that plague our world.

Basic Strategies

Except for one stunning difference, the Confidents, Uncertains, and Doubters all described similar strategies for surviving the pandemic. The foundational elements of their pandemic strategy are to:

  • Pray – They are praying intently to discover where God “is” in this pandemic and what he would have them do.
  • Communicate – Everyone is communicating as much as possible, using as many channels as they can, to understand their stakeholders’ needs, to encourage them, and to keep a strong and healthy relationship with them. Many are doing this not only through mass communication but by phoning and talking one-on-one with them. Pastors are getting their elders to help make this form of communication happen.
  • Convert or create – Virtually everyone had either converted existing programs to an appropriate format or taken the opportunity to create new programs, such as home groups.
  • Obey – A significant number mentioned specifically that they are following all laws and guidelines from the government and health officials and have avoided arguing with people over them. They’ve simply told people they care about the health of everyone associated with their ministry and are acting for their good.
  • Be Faithful – Many mentioned that they have maintained a “business as usual” attitude because the Church’s mission still exists and Christ will build his Church even through the pandemic. Respondents frequently made the point that now is the time to stay faithful to their mission, to “keep to the plan.”
  • Reflect – Quite a few are taking the opportunity to reflect creatively on their mission and how they are ‘doing’ it (or ‘doing’ church).
  • Grow – A few decided they would do everything they could to grow through the pandemic.

The one striking difference between the three groups was the strategy of “waiting out the pandemic.” You would think this strategy would be one that the Doubters or the Uncertains might hold to, but none did. It was two of the Confidents who said this was their strategy! I thought they would all be decidedly proactive.

Quotes from the Confidents

Some comments about strategy really stood out as particularly noteworthy, either because they captured an idea quite well or, in a few cases, because of who said it. All the following quotes except for the last one came from the Confidents.

The impact on our ministry is almost non-existent. I don’t see any issue with us surviving the pandemic. We’ve actually expanded our reach as a result of using Zoom for online meetings because more folks are joining in on Sundays that would normally show up in our church meetings. We can reach seniors better this way and we’re also serving the needs of some very small churches that don’t have the same resources as we do.

A church in a town with less than $100,000 annual revenue

This quote is awesome! It came from a demographic that was typical of the Uncertains (ministry in a town) and Doubters (a small ministry) and yet it is from a Confident ministry! Here’s a small ministry not letting its circumstances dictate its future! They are making lemonade from lemons. And note especially that this charity, with under $100,000 in revenue, is generously sharing what it has with churches that are even smaller than they are! Kudos to this congregation! May the Lord bless you mightily for your faithfulness.

Take things as they come – focus on what we can do NOW and not dwell on how things used to be.

A rural church with annual revenue between $100,000 and $300,000

Very practical advice from a small, rural church. This is a forward-looking pastor focused on opportunity, not loss.

Since the beginning we have daily prayed and declared that our Mission will not just survive the crisis, but will thrive in its midst and flourish in its aftermath. To that we have added prudent physical oversight, cancelling annual budgeting in favor of 90 day physical plans. So far we are on target for having one of the best years in our 30 year history.

An inner-city mission with annual revenue between $1 million and $10 million

I love the attitude! This ministry is doing what CCCC is doing. We committed to thriving and flourishing through the pandemic, determined to come out of the pandemic as a stronger organization. Since the pandemic was declared, we have spent serious time reflecting on our mission, who we are, and how we are going to fulfill our mission.

Seriously? Our hope is in the bodily resurrection of the dead. Jesus didn’t come to earth to extend our days here; he came to give us peace and hope for this age because of the promise of the age to come. Our “strategy” is recognizing that this pandemic is just another one in a long line of pandemics before us and in a long line of pandemics after us; in other words; life on a broken earth is suffering but with Christ, there is joy in the suffering as well.

Church in a town with annual revenue between $100,000 and $300,000

Talk about having a good perspective, this smaller church has it right! Through all that history has thrown at us, we have persevered, done our work, and lived to see a brighter day each time. I was so encouraged to read this.

Approaching this season as one in which the organization can learn and improve its operations rather than simply to “survive” and then to revert to operations pre-COVID.

International relief & development agency with annual revenue between $1 million and $10 million

In this final quote from a Confident, we have an excellent example of how we can redeem a very bad circumstance: assess and learn from the past, and then use that information to prepare for a new and different future.

One respondent mentioned that the board does not appear to be taking the pandemic seriously and the ministry is using up its cash reserves. In a case like this, I encourage the board to fully explain to the Executive Director its strategy for dealing with the pandemic’s effects (and its assumptions) and the Executive Director to update the board about the current state of the cash reserve and a forecast of when it will be depleted. Both should read my post “Preparing for a Post-Crisis Healthy Board.

Last Words

We gave the respondents one last opportunity to say whatever they wanted. I will say a sincere “Thank-you” to the many who used this opportunity to express their gratitude and appreciation for the work of CCCC. Your comments were humbling to read.

But here are a few standout comments:

Question 6 [“How confident are you…?] – I answered that it will be just fine but that doesn’t mean it will be the same. We still expect to see an economic downturn that could affect our giving more than it has during the last 5-6 months. For that reason we are hesitant to spend at the same rate as our income, we are trying to increase our savings so that we have more contingency to carry us through. It also doesn’t mean we will be doing the same things when all returns to ‘normal’. We are trying to be open to new ways of doing things and reaching new audiences. See the opportunity for change instead of focusing on what has been lost.

A church in a city with between $1 million and $10 million in annual revenue

Great advice here. There could be one or more waves of the pandemic to come, so this church is taking the opportunity to improve its cash reserves while it can. Wise move. Also, the church is not trying to go back to what was, but is positioning itself for the future. This is a great time to redeem the awful fallout of the pandemic by looking for opportunities to become better and more effective as a ministry.

Covid accelerated existing challenges. We were already in a long term decline in monthly pledgers and this has simply accelerated due to shutdown of most acquisition channels. Finding cost effective channels with reasonable volumes is a challenge.

International relief & development agency with more than $10 million in annual revenue

This ministry recognizes an important truth: A stress test such as this pandemic will quickly point out any weak areas it encounters. Questions I would ask are:

  • Why are people disengaging from this ministry?
  • Is there something the ministry can control that it should do differently?
  • Why is the ministry worthy of support? How do supporters know it is worthy? (Accreditation with CCCC is one way.)
  • How does the ministry engage with its monthly donors?
  • What would the former monthly givers like to support?
  • Do they need a different way to give?

There are all kinds of good questions to ask in this situation. I hope this ministry has a fruitful time creatively investigating questions like these.

This pandemic has been a purifying agent for the church in North America. It has tested our integrity and authenticity. I believe it has shown the true characteristics of the Church here. Maybe, we’re not in as good a shape as we thought. Hopefully we will look to our brothers and sisters in the developing world for help. We have all the money—they have all the spirituality!

A church in a city with between $100,000 and $300,000 annual revenue

This comment gets to the heart of the issue of the fear that people will not return to church. If pastors are afraid they’ve lost people, then they have to ask the hard question: “What did we do with these people while we had them in our pews?”

Your church needs to be an incubation centre where people come to Christ and then learn how to make their faith the central part of their life from which all other parts develop. And the church community should be the vibrant place where they find support and encouragement for their Christian walk. It should matter to them that they are part of your church community, not just a consumer of its services.

Follow up to question 6: I do not think that we will be ‘just fine’, but this was the closest option to my thoughts. I know that we will make it through the year into 2021, but am unsure what donations will look like in December 2020, and then into 2021. We do have faith that God will provide for our needs, but am also aware that sometimes hard decisions to reduce costs may also need to be made.

Specialized ministry in a city with between $100,000 and $300,000 in annual revenue

This person has identified an uncomfortable possibility. So far we have got through the pandemic for the most part relatively well, although a good many ministries have had to let people go. Many more may have to face this possibility when a second and maybe even third wave of the pandemic hits us. This is all the more reason to do everything you can to strengthen your ministry now to be able to weather the next storm when it comes. How to do this will be the subject of my next post.

The pandemic has exposed both the strengths and cracks in our faith walk with God. He is faithful and His love is everlasting!

International relief & development agency with more than $10 million in annual revenue

This person repeats the point of the previous comment but I like their reminder that God will see us through. His Church will continue in one form or another. God is indeed faithful and his love is everlasting.

The Root Cause of Doubt

So what makes the difference between Confidents, Uncertains, and Doubters? They have done the same things that worked well. They have the same challenges. They are following the same basic strategies. What’s the difference that explains their different levels of confidence? All that’s left is the unique circumstance of the individual ministry. The Confidents believe they have what they need to beat the pandemic, while the Doubters don’t. And this is precisely where CCCC wants to be of help.

What is CCCC going to do?

CCCC will use this information to guide development of resources over the short term. Our goal is that the Doubters will use our resources to strengthen their organizations and acquire what they need so they can become confident of their futures!

  • Right away, we will add threads in the COVID-19 Response room of The Green for each of the challenges and strategies. Registered users can go there to discuss each topic.
  • CCCC will immediately begin developing content to help your ministry get healthier in every respect: fundraising, governance, strategy, etc. I anticipate that this information will be delivered as posts on this blog.
  • Medium-term, CCCC wants to help every member build an ever more healthy ministry so that you can withstand future hazards along your journey and fully accomplish your ministry’s mission. Over the next few years we will be building the resources you can use to become healthy.

My wish for you…

I hope that the survey results will help you assess your own ministry and spark some creative thinking about what needs to happen to have a bright and productive ministry future.


Thoughts on Christian Ministries: A Pandemic Update

  1. Bethel Pentecostal Church

    Will forward survey results to our Senior Pastor as there is wisdom in the ideas other ministries are trying that he may want to implement here.

  2. Wayne Eisbrenner

    I received your update and thank you for the insights. One of the ministries that has been dramatically impacted has been Christian overnight camps. We are currently the only industry that continues to be mandated by the government to not be able to provide ministry, and there has been little or no government assistance made available. As an example, we have had minimal income since the middle of March. We chose to refund all our camper fees (about $50,000) and we continue to have our day to day infrastructure costs (hydro, water, etc). Our donations from supporters has also dropped significantly and so our cash flow remains a major concern. With the outlook being very bleak that overnight camps will be allowed to operate, we are scrambling to try and find other alternatives to generate some income, however, because most of these do not include a direct ministry component (ie. guest group rentals), we are also concerned that our charitable status may be in jeopardy. While churches and other ministries are slowly able to start doing what God has called them to do, we are unable to do so because of government mandated closure, and our ministry is in jeopardy of ceasing to exsist.

    1. John PelloweJohn Pellowe Post author

      Thanks for the details of what your camp is experiencing. I am so sorry that your experience is not unusual but reflects the difficulties that Christian camps are in.

      I will do two things in response to your commentL
      1) I’m starting a thread in the COVID-19 Response room in The Green specifically for camps.
      2) I will contact the policy division of the Charities Directorate at CRA with the issue of non-ministry related ideas to generate cash. I will report the results by replying to this thread. It may be a while! But I am asking today.

    2. Patricia

      In Montreal, officials are preparing new “warming” spaces during the day for homeless people as the winter months approach. Has anyone explored the idea of using these empty camps to house this population? They might appreciate the stability of a warm bed and a good meal in a safe environment…

      1. John PelloweJohn Pellowe Post author

        I’m glad that empty spaces are finding a good use, Patricia. Most camps are not in urban areas and would be inaccessible to people who need them and would not be close to services they need. However, some may have winterized cabins and may be closer to the urban areas. I’ll pass your comment along. Thanks!


Sign up for Christian Leadership Reflections today!

An exploration of Christian ministry leadership led by CCCC's CEO John Pellowe