By Jeff Brumley
With an ice storm blanketing Fort Worth, Texas, Senior Pastor Brent Beasley set out for Broadway Baptist Church to determine if services should be canceled the following morning.
He found the sidewalks and parking lots covered by a sheet of ice. And then he found the answer to whether or not to cancel worship on March 1.
“I slipped and fell right on my back,” Beasley said. “That’s when I said, ‘OK, we’re cancelling.’”
Churches from the Southwest to the Northeast and just about everywhere in between have been following suit this winter. And many of those that aren’t closing are reporting decreases in attendance as congregants opt for safety and warmth over praise and worship.
But along with the falling snow and attendance also come falling revenues for some congregations. Houses of worship in Boston, with its record snowfalls, are reporting closures and huge drops in attendance and giving while sustaining damage such as frozen pipes.
‘Giving is on par’
“You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs,” Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England, told the Associated Press.
She told the news service that the financial toll might force some of the 60 Presbyterian churches in the region to close. Other denominations and religions told the AP of similar predicaments.
But a number of Baptist pastors and leaders interviewed by Baptist News Global gave somewhat less dire attendance and financial forecasts.
“We certainly had a decrease in attendance, but giving is on par,” said Jason Coker, the pastor of Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Conn.
It may be that his and other churches in the area are used to winter.
“We know when it is too dangerous to go out, but we also know it’s too dangerous to stop giving,” he said, adding that when the weather turns rotten “people just mail in their tithes and offerings.”
‘It’s a mess’
In other areas, the treacherous weather has forced the cancellation of Wednesday night services more than Sundays, said Larry Hovis, the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.
But even without cancellations, Hovis said reports from around the state are that attendance has been dipping due to weather.
“I feel confident overall that giving is down” as a result, he said. “Whether or not churches catch up, time will tell.”
He’s also heard from some pastors about increasing costs due to the repeated storms and single-digit temperatures. Some of those include snow removal costs and bursting pipes.
“It’s a mess,” Hovis said.
To make up for it financially, Hovis said churches must be direct and clear in placing their needs before their membership.
“It’s got to be very practical,” he said about the appeal for weather-related giving. “The church has to have money in order to accomplish its mission, and it depends on its members to do that.”
Nearly 30 years spent in the local church gives Terry Maples an appreciation for the financial worries pastors have when dangerous weather is on the way.
“I remember how much angst there would be when you missed a Sunday,” said Maples, the field coordinator of Tennessee CBF.
The advent of electronic giving has certainly helped alleviate such concerns in recent years, Maples said. Member loyalty also has something to do with it.
And that may be why he hasn’t heard too many complaints from churches in the Volunteer state.
“I’m not hearing clergy expressing concern as much as in the past,” he said. “I haven’t seen any panicking or any crises at this point, and that’s encouraging.”
‘People did respond’
But sometimes the weather-imposed cancellations can come at the worst times for some congregations.
“For us it is kind of significant,” Beasley said.
March 1 was the church’s stewardship commitment Sunday, when members were to bring their commitment cards to church with them. What’s more, Broadway’s fiscal year begins April 1.
It’s made it extra challenging because of especially low attendance the Sunday before — also due to weather.
“It’s the last month of the fiscal year for us,” he said. “It’s not a good time for us to get behind.”
Plus, it comes not too long after a Sunday in December had to be canceled.
“We made a big deal about asking people to help us make it up, and people did respond,” Beasley said.
That response is partly why Beasley said he isn’t sweating too much over last Sunday’s closure. Broadway members are being reminded to bring their commitment cards with them to church this coming Sunday.
And then there’s that technology.
“These days, so many people are giving electronically, and that helps, too,” he said.