Will people return to church after COVID-19?
Recent surveys of pastors and congregants conducted by the Center for Bible Engagement reveals the pain and promise of church life after the pandemic. While 62 percent of church leaders we surveyed are recording better attendance for online services than for regular church services, when it comes to tithing, 42 percent say that giving is worse than before the pandemic. A third say giving is about the same. Our data also revealed that some pastors are worried about what happens once the quarantine has lifted. Arnie Cole, CBE’s research director, says there are reasons to believe people may not be returning to the pews.
“How church leaders plan and respond now will make the critical difference in how the Church continues after the pandemic,” says Cole. “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. Online worship with the mega church across the country can be a ‘yes, and’ or an ‘in lieu of.’ As behavior scientists, we believe the ‘in lieu of’ scenario is the more likely one, and that has many pastors and leaders concerned.”
Cole says they have discovered several reasons why people may not return to in-person services. He says people have developed new habits during the pandemic that may keep them doing church online rather than in-person. Live streaming sermons are interactive, and most people appreciate the ability to comment, chat or even ask a question during a service. Additionally, the culture has taught people to expect things to be customized to their time schedules and available on-demand. Cole says if congregants decide to stay online for Sunday services, pastors and leaders can still make an impact in people’s lives.
“While 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. 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.”