It’s no surprise that local churches have faced unprecedented challenges in the past three months as they’ve responded to the requirements of social distancing. Many have had to learn how to provide worship options through digital formats since they could not meet on church campuses.
Barna Research Group has found that 96% of churches in America have found ways to live stream their worship services online during the pandemic. However, Barna also found that 48% of those who worshipped in church over the six months before the pandemic have not participated in an online worship experience. Of those who attended monthly services in the past, only one-third have participated virtually. Barna concludes that “it is possible that enthusiasm for only online service options has dwindled as the weeks have passed.”
In an informal survey of a number of local pastors, pastors noted the challenge they’ve faced in keeping the church body together and united, despite the required physical distance. While the pastors appreciated how technology has allowed members to stay connected in worship and prayer, they also mentioned the difficulty of staying connected in meaningful ways. For example, many local churches have sought ways to intentionally speak to church members by phone or text each week. Churches have also sought ways to meet the needs within the community that have arisen during this time.
Chris Stratton, the Director of Spiritual Formation at Toccoa Falls University, points out that the required social distancing during the pandemic “has served as a powerful reminder of the social character of the church.” Stratton explains that, despite how useful today’s technology has been for churches, the experience of social distancing and online worship “is underscoring the divine import and life-giving nature of our Christian relationships.”
The pastors interviewed focused on the blessings they have seen during this time. Pastors have been blessed by the faithfulness of their members, both in participation and giving. Several pastors noted that the numbers of those participating in on-line worship are greater than their normal attendance.
Most local churches have begun to reopen their doors for worship, while still practicing social distancing and safety precautions. As Father Sam Buice at Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church said, “I think we are probably all feeling grateful for relationships and activities [within the church] we used to take for granted.”