Tech Gaps Make it Harder for Smaller Churches to Survive Crisis

Mike Moen

MINNEAPOLIS — Churches across Minnesota are feeling the impact of the economic downturn created by the pandemic. Smaller parishes with no online presence face an even greater challenge in weathering the storm.

In states with stay-at-home orders, churches can’t pass the collection plate on Sunday. However, they still can receive online donations.

Chasma Dixon, office leader at New Salem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, said that church doesn’t have a large congregation that easily can shift to the digital world.

“Right now, we’re just using Facebook,” she said. “We should be on, like, a Zoom or on maybe a YouTube channel. We’re not there yet. We’re a small church; we don’t have the funds.”

Dixon said the already small staff has been reduced to a handful of people. During a normal week, she said, the church gets between $5,000 and $10,000 in donations, but the pandemic has dropped weekly tithing to around $1,000. The church staff now is scrambling to secure grant money, and looking at ways to increase its technological reach.

Pastor Curtiss DeYoung, who heads the Minnesota Council of Churches, said New Salem isn’t alone; donations are down for parishes across the region. For smaller ones that serve lower-income and minority communities, he said, it’s a devastating blow.

“Any wealth disparity that we see based on race is going to impact, then, the local church,” he said. “African-American congregations have less resources, and so in a situation like this, it’s more difficult to sustain their work.”

At the New Salem church, Dixon said they’re still able to press forward with some services, such as providing meals to seniors. However, she added that it’s heartbreaking, because they’re also limited at a time when community needs are growing larger.

“We used to get calls for people to help, but now we’re getting all the calls for us to help people,” she said. “So, we have to turn people away.”

Dixon said her church is able to make ends meet for now, but she worries about its ability to survive if things don’t improve. She’s also hopeful, however, since church leadership is engaging with elected leaders about ways to open up other resources for parishes such as New Salem.