(CP) As many churches have now reopened their doors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic only a minority of them view in-person worship services as the church model of the future. A majority see a hybrid model utilizing various online technologies as the new normal, according to a new study from Pushpay.
In its 2023 State of Church Technology report, Pushpay, the leading payments and engagement solutions provider for faith-based and nonprofit sectors, the company said when their researchers asked church leaders what the future of their church would look like in 12 months, only 28% of respondents indicated in-person only, while many had multiple outlooks.
"Surprisingly, instead of selecting a single answer, hundreds of respondents selected two or more options. This indicates significant uncertainty about what their ministries may look like in a year's time," Pushpay researchers said. "That level of doubt hampers a church's ability to make informed tech decisions. Adopting new digital tools should be grounded in a vision of the future—but at this inflection point, that may be difficult for many ministries."
While 28% of respondents saw in-person only services in the next 12 months, an almost equal share, 25% believe the church will be meeting in the metaverse, which Facebook describes as "a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren't in the same physical space as you."
Another 20% said worship will be online only, while a staggering 81% of respondents predict worship services will encompass a hybrid model.
The annual study, which is now in its second year, examines digital trends in the Church. Data for the study was collected through a survey conducted between September and October 2022. More than 2,200 church leaders from all branches of Christianity across the U.S. participated and some two-thirds of them represented churches with an annual budget of less than $1 million.
The report noted that in 2022, 89% of churches used a hybrid model and only 10% said they were worshiping in person only.
Now, says Pushpay, the new data reflects an expectation among church leaders for growth in online-only or metaverse worship services.
"Interestingly, when asked to speculate on how their church might operate one year from now, that hybrid figure slides down to 81%—but online only and metaverse spike upward significantly. So the lower hybrid figure doesn't necessarily mean churches are abandoning digital church, but rather that they're considering new tech-driven opportunities," researchers explained. "The spirit of hybrid church is leveraging technology to increase flexibility, adaptability, and inclusivity in ministry."
Pushpay's CEO Molly Matthews said in a statement to The Christian Post: "We are seeing an exciting shift in the faith sector as church leaders are becoming more tech savvy and eager to explore new approaches to engagement in a digital era."
A strong 94% of churches maintain that technology is important to their mission, and 53% define their ministry as "progressive" when it comes to technology. Many, however, see cost as the biggest obstacle to investing in products that they need.
"Of the top five factors considered 'extremely important' when considering new tech, only price was judged more important versus last year. Notably, further down that list, there was also a large uptick in the importance of usage-based pricing. One possible explanation for this trend is the economy at large," the researchers said. "At the time of the survey, churches were just emerging from a pandemic that likely strained their balance sheets, and they may be buckling down for an anticipated recession in the near future."