Most church buildings have stopped gathering, just a few plan to fulfill at Easter The change

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The outbreak of the corona virus has had a nationwide impact, including in U.S. churches, according to a new study by pastors.

Nashville Life Way Research asked Protestant pastors about how the pandemic had affected their communities and what plans they had for the near future.

While almost all pastors said that their church held personal services in early March, the situation had changed radically by the end of the month.

On the weekend of March 1st, 99% said they had gathered, while 95% held services the following weekend. By March 15, that number had dropped to 64%. And by March 22, 11% of pastors say that their churches have gathered in person. On March 29, only 7% of pastors said their congregations met in person.

"Gathering as a local church is a fundamental expression of the body of Christ, but also appreciating life and loving others," said Scott McConnell, Executive Director of LifeWay Research. “Since the mitigation guidelines affected large churches for the first time, the majority of churches with 200 or more participants did not meet until March 15, and only 1% of them met on March 22 when the guidelines met further changed. "

Almost half of the churches (47%) say they have already decided not to meet in person at Easter. A small number (3%) indicates that they will have a personal meeting no matter what.

A significant number says that they are in a wait and see situation. Almost one in five (18%) say they will hold a personal meeting if the authorities allow meetings of this size. Another 15% say they will if the local authorities do not recommend it. Fewer (7%) say they will have a personal Easter if they feel it is safe to do so. One in ten says he is not sure.

Online services and groups

As the churches moved away from personal gatherings during the crisis, most were able to switch to some form of online video replacement.

Less than one in ten Protestant pastors (8%) said they had no video sermons or services in the past month. In contrast, a survey of Protestant pastors in the fall of 2019 found that 41% of the pastors were not providing video content for their church at that time.

Around one in five pastors (22%) said that their churches had broadcast live before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, and they continue to do so. More than 2 in 5 (43%) say they typically do not broadcast their sermon or worship live, but they did so last month due to the corona virus. Another 27% said that they had not broadcast their service live, but instead published a video sermon online that their community can watch at any time.

More than half of the municipalities (55%) say that they also put their adult groups online, while 6% said they continued to meet in person. Meanwhile, 40% say that their groups did not meet in any way during the coronavirus disorder.

"The rapid introduction of video content was as abrupt as the termination of face-to-face meetings," said McConnell. “Churches that never thought of offering a streaming or video option quickly did so. Her pastors were forced to stay connected during this difficult time and continue to provide spiritual guidance. "

Effects on the church

Protestant pastors say the outbreak has brought difficulties and opportunities to their congregations.

Most say they saw how church participants helped each other with specific needs (87%) or met the needs related to coronavirus in the church (59%). More than half (55%) stated that a participant in his church was able to share the gospel during this time. 4% see that someone is committed to following Christ. Many (44%) say that a participant has given advice to someone who is crippled with fear.

Three out of four pastors (75%) say that a person's income in their church has been affected by shorter hours of work. Around 2 in 5 (42%) state that one of their churchgoers has lost their job. And 5% of pastors say they have someone in their church who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Pastors in the West (16%) and Northeast (13%) say more often than in the South (2%) or Midwest (1%) that one participant was diagnosed with COVID-19. Pastors in the northeast (69%) are most likely to say that someone in their church has lost their job.

As members have lost income, the churches are fighting as a result. Half of the pastors (52%) say that donations have decreased compared to earlier this year. One in five (18%) indicated that giving continued at a similar level, while 2% indicated that it had increased. Around a quarter of pastors (28%) are not sure.

Among those who say that giving in their church has decreased, 60% say that it has decreased by 25% or more, including 30% who say that it has decreased by at least 50%.

This can partly be due to the fact that many churches are reluctant to accept online donations. A 2017 LifeWay Research survey showed that 30% of churches used a website to help them go online, while more than half of Americans said they paid bills online.

"Churchgoers can still send in a check," said McConnell, "but this crisis has driven the churches to technology." Many are now adding online donation features if they didn't want to in the past. "

Pastoral pressure points

When asked about areas where they are most under pressure or in need of support, more Protestant pastors say that keeping in touch with their congregation is a problem (30%).

Pastors also say they are concerned about finances (26%), the technological challenges of the current situation (16%), pastoral care from a distance (12%), and non-technology members to keep them connected (11%).

Other concerns that pastors say burden them are finding out how to act strategically (9%), pressure not to meet (7%), the well-being of their members (7%), and the need for Prayer (6%). , personally exhausted or stressed (6%), the time-consuming nature of the changes (6%), the fulfillment of specific needs with social distance (5%), help with fears and injuries to others (5%), such as remote advice (5%) and help find gospel opportunities (5%).

Only a few pastors (6%) state that they are doing well and that they have no current pressure points.

“Social distancing is not normal. People are inherently relational and churches are a community of Christ's followers, ”said McConnell. "The lack of presence hurts many pastors and their churches, but they use technology like never before to stay connected until they can meet again."

Aaron Earls is an author for LifeWay Christian Resources.


The online survey of 400 Protestant pastors was conducted from March 30-31, 2020. Invitations were emailed to the LifeWay Research Pastor Panel, followed by two reminders. The probability sample of Protestant churches was created by telephone recruitment through LifeWay Research using random samples selected from all Protestant churches. This LifeWay Research Pastor Panel is made up of pastors who agree to be contacted by email for future surveys.

Each survey was conducted by the elderly or sole pastor or a pastor of the church. The answers were weighted according to church visit, region, pastor's ethnicity, and whether the pastor identified himself as evangelical or as the main person, to better reflect the population. The final sample includes 400 usable surveys. The sample offers 95% certainty that the sample error does not exceed plus or minus 5.5%. The error rates are higher in subgroups.

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