'Virtual church' – has it lost its luster already?

Monday, June 1, 2020
 | 
Steve Jordahl (OneNewsNow.com)

online study or worshipCongregations were enthusiastic about online church services when the pandemic hit – but a respected "faith and culture" polling group reports the novelty seems to have worn off.

It wasn't unusual in March and April for churches to report they had more viewers watching their online services than they had in-person attenders prior to the COVID pandemic. But now it's the beginning of June, and according to the Barna Group almost half of churchgoers haven't watched even one online service in the last month.

"Over the last four weeks it feels like the novelty has been wearing off of digital church," says Barna president Dave Kinnaman. "There has been a decline in attendance and engagement." (See related article)

And the Barna leader says it gets worse: a third of those who are watching are doing some virtual "church shopping" – that is, they're not watching their own church online.

Hundreds, if not thousands of churches opened up on Sunday (May 31) – some against state and local restrictions. And while the energy and excitement of coming back to church may be high at first, Kinnaman suggests that may fade as well.

Kinnaman

"I think that things are not going to be going back to the same kind of normal that we had," he offers. "First, the psychological impact is pretty significant – people are hesitant to come back."

And according to a recent related poll of thousands of church leaders facilitated by the leadership firm Gloo, a quarter of churchgoers say they may stay home until a vaccine is found – which could be months, if not a year or more away.

That said, Kinnaman says local churches may want to coordinate their reopening to build a little momentum.

"We should try to do what other churches in the community are doing," he says of local churches, "where we're not trying to be a Lone Ranger and open up too quickly or open up in ways that put people at risk – but we're also not too slow in opening up."

While the Barna survey shows declining viewer interest in online church services, OneNewsNow reported in early May about a young Kansas pastor who argues churches need to keep their services online to stay relevant and remain an influential resource in their communities.

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