2020 left an indelible mark on churches around the world. It tested the faith community at large. Some ministries struggled to stay connected with their people. Others negotiated the uncharted waters well.
So what about 2021? Will things get better? On Jan. 14, Brotherhood Mutual Insurance sponsored a webinar to address the “next” normal going forward. Utilizing research from Barna Group, the webinar leader and guests shared some sobering statistics concerning current attendance trends in various churches.
Church attendance patterns dramically shifted in 2020. During the period of April 28-May 11, among practicing Christians, 35% said they were still and only attending their pre-COVID church; 14% had switched churches; 32% had stopped attending church; and 18% viewed multiple church services online throughout the month. The most startling statistic was that 32% of church attenders stopped attending church altogether during the pandemic.
Drilling deeper into the research concerning those that stopped attending church completely, Barna reported that 26% were Babyboomers, 35% were Gen X and 50% were Millennials. Barna also reported that as churches resumed in-person worship and offered online worship, attendance increased only modestly.
When will things get back to normal? Barna’s research suggested that the idea of returning to a pre-pandemic normal without any adjustments might be short-sighted. When asked about church attendance in the future, 71% of Babyboomers preferred physical gatherings and 47% of GenXers preferred physical gatherings only. Millenials and GenZ overwhelmingly wanted both in-person worship and online worship options.
After listening to the hour long webinar, three take-aways emerged for me:
• Nothing takes the place of in-person worship. Christians need to gather, in-person, with other Christians for public worship. That’s not just “preacher talk,” it’s Biblical truth. I miss having my entire congregation together in one larger worship service instead of two smaller ones. I miss the folks that have chosen to worship online due to an abundance of caution for health reasons.
• Embrace digital based ministry, it’s here to stay. The first online worship service at Celebration was extremely awkward for me. Preaching to a camera (iphone) was difficult. I had no feedback, and I could not determine if the audience was grasping the sermon or not. However, digital ministry is here to stay. The question remains, are we going to embrace it or resist it? Are we going to invest in it or ignore it?
• Digital ministry doesn’t need to be a high-end production to be effective. One of the guests in the webinar made that point well. At the same time, some planning and forethought are essential. Some decent equipment may need to be purchased, but digital ministry doesn’t require a slick production.
Here’s the reasoning: some of the more popular channels on a prominent online, video platform include very low budget videos. Many use a cell phone and an inexpensive microphone. Buy the best equipment you can afford, but don’t let modest resources stop you you from trying to reach people online. Don’t be sloppy, but do something!
If you would like to view the webinar, go to cutt.ly/next-normal.