NASHVILLE (BP) — As federal, state and local governments weigh relaxing stay-at-home guidelines, most churches continued to avoid gathering physically throughout April.
Nine in 10 Protestant pastors say their congregations did not meet for an in-person worship service last month, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
A previous study from LifeWay Research found 99 percent of churches gathered physically at the beginning of March, but that dropped to 7 percent by March 29.
Despite Easter falling during the month, churches continued to avoid meeting in April. The latest LifeWay Research survey found those choosing to gather in person remained flat on April 5 and April 12 (Easter Sunday) at 7 percent. Fewer gathered on April 19 (4 percent) and April 26 (6 percent).
“By the end of March, the gravity of the pandemic had changed churches’ behavior across the nation,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “The need for precautions did not change throughout April and churches maintained their temporary avoidance of gathering physically.”
Most pastors are making plans now for meeting again when local government restrictions and guidance against churches meeting are lifted, but few say they’re going to return to normal immediately.
Three in 10 (30 percent) say they plan to resume worship services first with small groups beginning to meet later. Around a quarter (23 percent) say they’re going to wait a few additional weeks and then resume activities gradually. Almost 1 in 6 (16 percent) are planning on resuming all normal activities right away, while 7 percent are starting up small groups first and in-person worship services later.
A quarter (24 percent) say they have not yet made any plans for resuming activities, and 1 percent say they never stopped their in-person activities.
Move to digital
As churches adjusted to a lack of physical gatherings in April, even more attempted to move services online.
Almost all churches (97 percent) offered some type of digital worship service option, up from 92 percent in March.
In April, around a quarter (22 percent) say they continued livestreaming their sermon or worship service as they were already doing before the pandemic.
Close to half (45 percent) say they don’t typically livestream but did so in April because of the coronavirus. Three in 10 (30 percent) say they didn’t livestream but did post a video sermon for their congregation to view at any time.
The coronavirus outbreak has caused some previously hesitant churches to adopt online giving. Almost 1 in 6 pastors (16 percent) say their church has added an online giving option since the pandemic began. Close to half (48 percent) say they continue to offer online giving as they did previously.
More than a third (35 percent) say their church does not currently offer the ability to give online.
Still, online giving among Protestant churches has grown considerably since 2017 when LifeWay Research found 30 percent offered a giving option on their website.
“The technological strides churches have made the last six weeks are amazing,” said McConnell. “Before the pandemic the majority of churches did not livestream services or offer online giving methods. Now two-thirds offer each and almost all churches have offered some online sermons or worship.”
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Source: Baptist Press