“I found something amazing,” stated Rev. Shijung Shim, pastor of Castro Valley UMC. The multi-ethnic church is located in the suburbs with an average attendance of 72 people on Zoom for Sunday worship. Over the past years, giving has increased steadily. But, in a pandemic, Shim wasn’t sure the upward trend could continue but it has. “Our giving this year (without PPP) is higher than last year!”
Shim and other pastors are finding that their churches, during the pandemic, are remaining faithful in giving financially and may be increasing.
“When people experience grace and see need,” said Shim. “giving is so natural--they want to give!”
“We are small but mighty,” said Rev. Sadie Stone of Bethany UMC in San Francisco with 35 to 40 Sunday worshipers before COVID-19. “People are more consistent in their giving and people, who we hadn’t seen give before, are consistent now, too!”
“Their giving is just one expression of their willingness to serve,” stated Bay Area District Superintendent Staci Current. Each church has committed to continuing their outreach ministries through the pandemic. “Both churches are filled with people dedicated to serving—reaching out to the hurting and going beyond themselves.”
“We had a deficit in 2019 and we were worried about coming into 2020,” said Rev. Ginger Foster, pastor of Pioneer UMC in Auburn with 60 worshippers in attendance for Zoom worship each week. The trustees held a Miracle Sunday fundraiser anyway. “It didn’t impact us negatively in regular giving and, in fact, we have ended up in a surplus!”
“We have a lot of people who are committed to and faithful to the mission,” said Stone. Bethany has maintained several outreach ministries including food distribution and finding hotel space for the unhoused. “We are continuing to have ways to be involved—where we are still the church.”
“The pandemic has never stopped us at being faithful in what we do—we weren’t going to stop anything,” said Shim. At the beginning of the pandemic, Castro Valley immediately turned to Zoom worship making sure everyone was involved, reaching out to every member. “We would take the thirty minutes needed to explain how to punch the right button on the phone to access Zoom—to make sure everyone could be included.”
“What we really focused on was ministry,” said Shim. The church continued to deliver meals with the Food to Go program and raise money for F.E.S.C.O. (Family Emergency Shelter Coalition) to end homelessness. “We are determined that no matter how long the pandemic lasts, we want to have a legacy and set a good example.”
“Our big thing is to be intentional,” said Stone. “Giving is part of our faith and is built into our faith practice like praying and making sack lunches.”
“Now, more than it used to be, giving is a thoughtful process,” continued Stone. “Before the pandemic, people didn’t really pay attention as much, [online giving] wasn’t a necessity…whatever I have in my pocket, five dollars, whatever-- but now, it is more intentional giving.”
“Jesus talked about money and our heart—all of that,” said Foster. Foster regularly talks about opportunities for giving on Sunday mornings letting people know, if they have means, the ways they can continue church programs and ministries. “What you’re doing with your money reflects on what you’re doing with your life.”
Because a lot of people are at home and not getting out, Sunday morning is an opportune time to inform congregants. Foster has invited community groups to speak on ministry projects during worship including Prosper Placer, supporting families in poverty; Acres of Hope for homeless women and children; and The Gathering Inn, a portable homeless shelter in Placer County—all of which the church supports. Along with increased reporting about church finances, “a larger number of people know the financial situation of the church and how we’re using our money,” added Foster.
Foster estimates that a significant portion of church income is now being collected through online giving which the church put in place at the beginning of the year. Recently, the church has more consistently sent out quarterly statements of giving which also include either a letter from the pastor, a thank you note or other information.
Each church has chosen to submit their tithe to the conference on a monthly basis as part of their commitment to the general mission of the church.
“It’s a lot easier if you do something monthly and even though not at 10%,” said Foster. “We are budgeted at 7% this year—but we may increase it soon.”
“Pastor Ginger and the lay leadership of Pioneer made a commitment last year to increase their tithing in 2020,” said Rev. Blake Busick, District Superintendent of the Great Northern district. “Even with the challenges of not being able to meet in person, they have made substantial progress this year. Their tithe giving is way up over last year and I credit the commitment of their leadership, maintaining good communication with the congregation and members responding in faith and love.”
“We build celebration around it,” said Stone. Bethany UMC takes pride in meeting their tithe to the conference and sets aside time to celebrate. “Celebrating who we are and what we do is important.”
“These are extraordinary times and it is inspirational to see church leadership and members respond in extraordinary ways,” said Busick.