Lessons learned in quarantine: how the church has adapted and what we can do moving forward
There’s no question that Coronavirus has impacted every area of our lives and churches. Overnight, church leaders had to figure out how to do services online and scale ministry digitally, while caring for the members of their community, and navigating their own challenges having their families at home. In many different areas from retail to healthcare, to restaurants and education, we’ve witnessed digital acceleration happen at a pace no one could have dreamed of and most of the changes we’ve experienced are here to stay.
The ChurchPulse Weekly podcast by Barna Group has been surveying pastors and church leaders in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic and they have uncovered some amazing stats as it relates to how churches have gone digital and how their congregations have responded. They offer some great insights for us to consider as we imagine what church will look like as we embrace a new normal.
1 – 96% of pastors report their churches have streamed services during the pandemic.
Many churches thought that they didn’t have the right technology or resources to stream services online, but thanks to tools like Zoom and Facebook Live, churches have quickly learned that there are easy and simple ways to get your content online and to get your congregation engaged. While a majority of churches didn’t stream their services before, nearly every church has now figured out a way to make worship experiences available online.
They say that “necessity is the mother of invention” and one thing that the pandemic has shown all churches is that they have the ability to do church online. Even after gatherings are allowed back, many churches report they will still continue to offer online worship experiences for many reasons, whether it’s out of concern for people who are elderly or have compromised immune systems, or because they’ve seen how easy it is to do. Either way, if your church has gone online during the pandemic, don’t let it go offline when things are back to “normal.”
2 – 53% of practicing Christians in the United States say they have attended a church service online in the last month.
While nearly every pastor and church leader has reported their church as gone online during the pandemic, a little over half of churchgoers say they have attended a church service online in the last month. There are many reasons for this, primarily that we are in an age of digital screen fatigue. With work, education, and the primary way most people have been able to socialize with friends and stay connected with family has been through screens. After a week behind screens, many people are reluctant to sit through an entire worship service.
One solution we’ve seen churches take to address this is shortening the time of their digital worship experience. Rather than 90 minutes online, they’ve trimmed their service time down, in some cases, by nearly half, to make a shorter, but more condensed experience that’s focused on the essentials. Many churches have discovered when it comes to church online, less is definitely more.
As you think about how you can engage your church between now and when you’re back together in person (and even beyond!), remember that people’s time is valuable, so make their time in your church service worth their investment.
3 – 15% of adults admit to multitasking while watching their church services online.
We’re all guilty of not paying attention in church, and the same is true when watching church services online. 15% of adults admit to surfing the web, playing games on their smartphones, doing puzzles, or even reading. When they are in their own homes, distractions abound.
One way to keep people engaged as they watch your church service online is to leverage things like live chat on Facebook Live or YouTube or using our Online Church System during your online services. Invite people to comment, chat, and engage. Ask questions in the message and ask people to reply. Some churches have even done photo challenges, asking their congregation to post or share photos of their families watching the service in their pajamas. When it comes to church services, whether they are online or in-person, keep people engaged by asking them to participate.
4 – Only 3 in 10 churchgoers say they have had contact with their pastor or church leader since the pandemic began.
This stat is a sobering one to consider. While it’s true pastors can’t have in-person contact with members of their church because of social distancing, still, only 3 in 10 churchgoes said they have had contact with their pastor or church leader in the form of a phone call, email, Zoom call, or other form of communication outside of an online church service.
Pastors and leaders have big jobs and challenges to face right now, but one thing that they can’t overlook is the importance of making sure people in their congregation feel cared for and seen. While a single pastor can’t make individual contact with their church members, pastors CAN (and should!) offer ways to connect with the congregation outside of their normal weekly services.
One church is doing daily Zoom check-in’s each morning and evening, inviting anyone to hop on at a designated time to connect in an open forum from a pastor or church leaders — it’s a casual way for people to connect, share prayer requests, or share what Netflix series they’ve been binging. Another church has been doing a daily video devotion where the lead pastors of their church record short videos and encouragement that are emailed and posted on social media each day. No matter the format, churches that are going out of their way to keep their congregation connected during the pandemic will see stronger relationships emerge as we return to our new normal.
Where do we go from here?
While we continue to watch the news about reopening across the country and consider when our churches may return to how they were before the pandemic, there are great things we’ve learned during this season that can help us as we move into the future.