Despite the challenges, churches are also growing in the coronavirus pandemic

Many pastors said their church has become more innovative with technology as a result of the coronavirus pandemic(Photo: Unsplash/Oleg Magni)

The outbreak of coronavirus has thrown up huge challenges for churches, much as it has elsewhere, but in spite of this, many pastors are reporting some positive changes.

With churches having to suspend public worship because of social distancing measures, a new survey by the Barna research group has found that pastors are getting to grips with technology in new ways.

When asked where they had seen their church grow during the pandemic so far, nearly half (48%) said it was in "innovation around technology". 

Just over one in five pastors (22%) said that church leaders were "taking more initiative and caring more deeply for congregants", while one in ten (11%) said their church had experienced an "increased commitment to prayer". 

Other positive trends include "greater spiritual openness in people's hearts" (5%), "new and unexpected leaders stepping up" (3%), "our church stepping up to help our community" (3%), "attendance and engagement is increasing" (2%) and "increased small group attendance" (2%).

Despite the upheaval and uncertainty, most pastors are confident their churches will survive the Covid-19 crisis (94% very confident or confident). 

Most pastors also report that they are weathering the storm well on a personal level.  When asked "overall, how are you doing today?", 84% said they were very good or good, with only 15% answering "okay" and only one per cent saying "poor". 

Asked about their congregants, they said they were, to the best of their knowledge, doing well overall in spite of the challenging circumstances, with 10% saying they were very good, and 62% good. 

Most see some impact on the wellbeing of their flocks, though (18% a lot, 53% some, 23% a little). 

Barna president David Kinnaman said it was a sign that the pandemic is taking its toll. 

"A week ago, we found that two out of three churches said that people had been affected in their congregation. Now three out of four pastors say that COVID has started to take an effect on the overall well-being of the people in their church," he said. 

"Week over week, we're seeing the beginning signs of this crisis taking a longer-term toll on pastors, on their families and on their people."

But nearly half of pastors (46%) are optimistic that the personal faith of their congregants will increase through this time.  In terms of the broader situation, only a quarter think things will "get much worse". 

Not surprisingly, when asked about the greatest priority for their church overall during the pandemic, 61% of pastors said it was "communicating a message of faith and hope to people in the middle of the crisis". 

Others are focused on "putting in place technology solutions for streaming our services and / or online giving" (25%), and around a quarter of pastors (24%) said their church was "helping distribute food and supplies".

Just over a third (34%) said they were "reaching out to elderly, isolated and at-risk community members", and five per cent said their churches were "providing financial resources to those who are struggling". 

"I believe the Church is needed more now than ever before," Bobby Gruenewald, founder of the YouVersion Bible app, told Barna.

"I feel it's imperative that we keep church doors open, if not physically, then certainly digitally. From a relational perspective, we need to keep them open because we have emotional and spiritual needs that are significant during this time in our communities.

"That takes form not just in online church, but also in finding new and innovative ways that we can serve in our communities. ... This is a time of experimentation for the Church. There's a global wave of church and ministry innovation taking place right now."