In spite of concerns over COVID-19, a majority of evangelical churches and faith-based nonprofits are looking ahead with optimism according to a recent report.

Conducted from Jan. 19 to Feb. 17 and May 12 to May 27, a report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) shows that optimism about church finances noted in January is already returning to churches in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Christian Post reports.

The report, Optimism Outweighs Uncertainty: COVID-19 Financial Impact Report for Churches and Other Nonprofits, was published in June by the ECFA. A sample of 684 churches and 657 nonprofits were surveyed about their financial positions concluding 2019 and their outlook for 2020.

EFCA vice president of research and equipping Warren Bird says he found the survey results surprising.

"To our surprise, the optimism documented in January is already beginning to return," Bird says.

"Rough and uncertain waters are still ahead for some, particularly summer camps, schools, short-term missions, and other ministries involving near-term travel and large in-person gatherings. Yet the responses in this report indicate the impact of the pandemic to date is reasonably manageable."

58 per cent of churches surveyed in January 2020 were optimistic about their outlook for cash donations from May to July, while 27 per cent said they were uncertain of the future. 15 per cent claimed they were pessimistic.

This is comparable to 47 per cent of churches in May 202 who said their cash donations were coming in at a rate equal or higher to what it was before. About 25 per cent said giving remained steady, and 28 per cent of churches reported a drop in donations.

59 per cent of churches and ministries surveyed also said they applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). 33 per cent of churches polled with budgets under $500,000 applied for the program, according to results of the survey.

The PPP ended on Aug. 8 but allowed churches with 500 or fewer employees to request a federal loan for an amount 2.5 times its average monthly payroll.

The government offered forgiveness of these loans with a one per cent interest rate so long as 75 per cent of the funds were used to cover payroll expenses in the eight weeks after the church received the funds. The remaining amount could be used to cover other expenses.

A survey conducted by Vanderbloeman found that more than 76 per cent of churches they surveyed had less than 1,000 service attendees, while more than 58 per cent had fewer than 500.

61 per cent of Christian churches and nonprofits received less than $150,000 through the program.

Vanderbloeman reports the hope of the program was for the government to improve job stability through sustaining employee payments during COVID-19 rather than paying for unemployment.

"This definitely worked out for everyone involved. With very little turnover in Christian organizations, they were able to maintain staff and continue to help their communities during a time of crisis," the survey reports.