As lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus have forced many believers to attend online services, one study shows church life following the pandemic could look markedly different than it did before.
The Center for Bible Engagement (CBE) conducted a survey this month revealing that 62% of churches report having higher attendance for their online worship services than they did with their conventional in-house church services held before the outbreak. Despite heightened online attendance during the pandemic, church contributions are down.
"When it comes to tithing, 42% say that giving is worse than before the pandemic, while 33% say giving is about the same," CBE announced in its press release. (See image below, compliments of CBE)
A degree of anxiety was also found among some church leaders who are fearful about what they will face once the lockdown is over, as CBE's CEO and research director Dr. Arnie Cole says it could be likely that many congregants will not return to their churches' sanctuaries, opting instead to stay safe behind their computer screens while watching services online at home.
"How church leaders plan and respond now will make the critical difference in how the Church continues after the pandemic," Cole emphasizes. "Each of us can choose to virtually attend any church with an online presence. This choice can be an add-on to our active participation in our local church, or a substitute for it."
And with a large proportion of churchgoers attending megachurches, there's apparently a degree of apprehension amongst church leaders across America.
"Online worship with the mega church across the country can be a ‘yes, and' or an ‘in lieu of,'" Cole adds. "As behavior scientists, we believe the ‘in lieu of' scenario is the more likely one – and that has many pastors and leaders concerned."
CBE points out that streaming technology has presented options to congregants that they may not have availed themselves of before the quarantine – such as the interactive nature that allows them to comment, chat, or even ask a question during a worship service. In addition, according to CBE, the culture has taught people to expect things to be customized to their time schedules and available on-demand.
But regardless how Americans do church – online or in person – Cole is confident that, going forward, pastors will still be able to powerfully touch lives with God's Word.
"First and foremost, church leaders need to meet people where they are," Cole urges. "While [pastor and evangelist] Greg Laurie can share the words of Jesus with 1.3 million people online, he can't meet the day-to-day needs of all the people who hear him preach."
Cole ends with some advice for pastors in the post-pandemic period:
"Church leaders need to make personal relationships with their members priority one. They need to concentrate on the six days between Sundays – helping people stay connected with God beyond the four walls of a church. The difference between a lukewarm Christian and an engaged disciple-maker is what they do between Sundays."
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