Just over a month ago we started a survey to see how COVID has affected Christians and the role technology has played. How have churches, at least from the perspective of respondents, been affected? We’re naturally curious people and we wondered what sort of trends there might be.
- Has people’s faith been strengthened or weakened?
- What role has technology played in this time?
- What technology have people found the most helpful?
- How have churches leveraged technology during this time?
- What opportunities have been seized or missed?
So we created a simple survey using Google forms and two weeks and 150 responses later, we have some answers.
Disclaimer: This is not a highly scientific survey
We are curious about how COVID affected Christians, so we decided to find out as best we can. We’re not professional pollsters, and our sample is not ‘significant’, nor weighted. We used our networks and contacted friends asking for their help. It’s possible that this is biased data. We think there’s some interesting insights nonetheless. Onto the results.
Who Took Part?
Over 40% of our participants came from the United States. The UK was the next largest with 30.8%. A total of 18 countries took part including Malaysia, Gabon, Ghana, the UAE and Nepal.
Close to 32% of respondents identified as non-denominational with Anglicans just below 21% as the next largest group, and Baptists were almost 10%. Our eclectic group included Pentecostals, Methodists, Brethren, Salvation Army, Anabaptists and more.
The majority of churches surveyed were under 250 with 30% between 100-200 and 28% fewer than 100. 73% of the respondents’ churches were 500 and less people. Churches with more than 501 in members came up to 17%.
The majority of respondents identified themselves as members or volunteers at church.
How Covid Has Affected Christians Personally
How people have used personal technology
Overwhelmingly, people said that the Sar-cov-2 pandemic had strengthened their faith. However, it is important to note that while the majority of responses were positive, there were a series of negative comments.
“We shouldn’t forget about the people who are really suffering and struggling at this time.”
In general, respondents are both reading the Bible and praying more. However, prayer had more polarized responses, with a greater number of praying a lot more and a lot less. This meant that Bible reading had a higher average.
Changes to time spent on Church activities due to COVID
In terms of spending time on Church activities, there was an almost even spread in responses. Both church members and pastors / church leaders had polarized responses–spending more or less time. On 1-5 scale, volunteers and paid staff tended to give 3s and 4s. (With 1 being low and 5 highest.)
Has Personal Technology Helped People’s Faith During The Pandemic?
On the whole, respondents said that technology has been extremely beneficial for their faith during this time. The average score worked out to 7.5 (out of 10), which was higher than the 6.5 average strengthening of faith.
The most common technology mention was attending online services, attending online small groups second and Bible reading apps third. The only other response with multiple choices was prayer apps with a widely varied comments. This eclectic mix included online conferences and coffee clubs, blogs, podcasts and YouTube as well as some online courses.
Vox Pop [sic]
“Tech has increased my access to faith supplements and complements. Opened my heart to new ways of discovering the beauty of my faith and finding ways to nourish my hunger for more”
“I think Christians put too much emphasis on technologies role in faith and it functions as a distraction from having to talk about actual faith and issues facing our communities.”
“I have found technology keeps me in touch with Christian friends, but also sometimes diverts from reading the Bible.”
“I have always preferred reading digitally. At a young age, I found myself able to retain information better if I consumed the information digitally rather from a physical book. That said, if the UI is terrible, then technology becomes an obstacle and I’ll drift away. Same thing with streaming a service or any video based content. If the production is poor, especially audio, I can’t stick with it.”
“I often can’t get to church due to illness so the use of technology has made it more accessible. I know this is true for many people. Church being accessible isn’t just about physical accessibility. It doesn’t have to be ‘either or’, but ‘both and’. My church has now taken this on board”
“I feel my church saw the accessibility of technology as an opportunity to fill the week with events to “keep us connected”. The result was that I felt burned out on obligations even though I wasn’t leaving the house. Unfortunately, I also felt guilty opting out, because it was emphasized over and over that this is was how we would maintain community. So, ultimately, I felt like my church was burdening me in a time when I was already overwhelmed.”
How Churches Have Responded To The COVID-19 Pandemic
As you can see, the vast majority of churches have done a fantastic job of adapting to new technologies that they have needed to use. Although these responses are subjective, it shows that through this disruptive time, churches have been able to adapt in a way accepted by their congregation.
This was backed up by our question, “How would you rate your church’s overall response” (deliberately asked after questioning church’s efforts in particular areas including community and evangelistic work).
Out of those two particular areas, respondents said that their churches had been better at community outreach (with an average of 4.5 out of 5) than evangelism (average of 3 out 5).
Vox Pop 2 [sic]
It was hard to reach out of our church community in formal ways. Really what we could do is support our ‘own’ and they could reach out. Zoom isn’t attractive to newcomers I don’t think. That said, we don’t know who all watched our online services; we did have extras. They haven’t yet showed up physically in the month back, except for one family
I am impressed that my church gave put relatively short services and thoughts for the day online, which are seeker friendly.
The church I go to is pretty incredible and stronger than ever. We have done many outreaches during COVID within guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks for essential workers, providing food for the hungry, etc. If anything this COVID situation has strengthened us and drawn us closer together.
Creating a space to engage church and non church folk has been a challenge – reaching outside of the church family has been difficult when members are focused on connecting with family – time just vanished.
How Church activities have changed due to the pandemic
The most common activities moved online included, sermons, worship and small groups, with giving financially after that. The least common were “other courses” where we mentioned marriage preparation as an example, followed by evangelism.
In terms of new activities, online homegroups was, expectedly, the most common new activity (we didn’t bother mentioning online meetings). The next was community activities such as food banks.
One of the trends noted in some of the comments was that many churches hadn’t run or been able to run kids activities during this time.
‘Post-COVID’ expectations of the church
55.6% of respondents are expecting to go back to meeting in person as soon as they can, while another 21.9% are unsure and 22% say they won’t return to face-to-face meetings as soon as they are available.
Perhaps this partially explains why the medium score for the statement “we expect church to go back to the way it was before COVID” was just 1.5 (1 being completely disagree and 5 fully agree).
Not surprising, the activities that are expected to continue online reflected the activities that have moved online. This suggests that most groups expect to continue to offer the same options as they currently have, although there was a sizable drop in small groups, youth and kids work, while discipleship stayed the closest (48 current, 41 in the future) and other courses actually shows an increase.
While some churches have used Alpha for evangelism online, it would be interesting to get more detail on other online courses or interventions from churches.
Some final comments from participants [sic]
While we have the scales and numbers we felt comments how COVID affected christians and their churches were part of the highlight of our survey. Here are a few more:
The hardest part of church at home is having little kids. We feel so disconnected because with kids at home we have a hard time being able to fully engage in online services. One or both of us is managing the littles at any given moment and feel so defeated we stopped attempting to watch online services. It has been very disheartening to stop all together but each week we felt more and more defeated.
We plan to continue with a mix of online and in buildings worship as we move forward as it won’t be possible for all to attend church immediately that it reopens
Online church will never take the place of live church, but offers an opportunity to those who are unable to attend physically to join virtually.
Some thoughts on the Survey and how COVID has affected Christians and churches
It’s dangerous to make general statements based on such limited data and even more in confirming our expectation or bias. I was optimistic that COVID had been a testing opportunity for growth, not just in principled use of technology but personal dependence on Jesus for our faith.
At the same time, I was worried that the Church may have become more insular and focused on its own members and not on its non-members. Fortunately, I saw evidence that this hasn’t been the case in many churches.
Despite all the positive data, we shouldn’t forget about the responses which have been poor. We are the faith of the lost sheep. The followers of the God who exchanged the glory of heaven to suffer among us. As church leaders, volunteers and members, we should look out for the people around us who would respond with a 1 to the question of how COVID has affected their faith.
What are some of your thoughts on the survey results or in general on how COVID has affected Christians and churches?