A couple of months ago or so, Blessing wrote about how to prepare for an outbreak. At the time, I didn’t know if this post would be necessary, but I thought it was prudent to publish it and help people prepare. I also didn’t think we’d be talking about the long term impact of COVID-19 On Churches.
But now many churches are navigating these difficult times and turning to live streaming and online giving solutions as well as trying new ways of connecting church members.
But with it becoming clear that this won’t be over in a couple of weeks, maybe even months, it’s worth considering the potential long term effects, both positive and negative.
This is probably the easiest one to call (along with an increase in hand washing). Many churches had resisted moving to live streaming for both technical reasons and the belief that services should be in person.
But with many churches needing to find some way to meet and implementing a streaming solution, they have now crossed both the technical challenges and changed their beliefs at least temporarily.
While some will certainly drop streaming when they can start meeting in person again, some will also keep it as an option.
More Great Christian Content Online
There’s already a great amount of fantastic sermons and songs available online. And with more churches starting to create their own content, we may see new ideas come forward and the standard of content raised.
Some churches are seeking to fill the gaps of the content that already exists and so aren’t focusing on longer sermons, but shorter, timely messages.
Even if most groups stop when their lockdowns are lifted, some new content creators will probably start, thanks to this experience.
More Online Giving
Similarly, many churches have adopted online giving platforms and so it’s equally likely that some will see the benefits of online giving tools and keep them around.
A Return to More Analog Approaches
It is possible that this shove forwards in the digital world will make us long more for a return to the way things were before.
It is not inconceivable that some churches will actually place a stronger emphasis on analog options and not digital replacements.
Some may stop streaming as they decide that in-person meetings are substantially different to streamed one. Instead of providing only downloadable items, they may start offering more physical print outs.
However, I’ll admit that I don’t think this is the most likely outcome for most churches, it’s more likely that some individual christians will be more nostalgic and that we find principled solutions seeking to get the best out of digital tools and options, while retaining the best of analog.
A Drop in Sunday Attendance?
I am not certain about this one but it’s possible that we will see a short term or extended decline in Sunday attendance. After all, the habit of going to church will have been gone for many people and it may take some time to restore.
It may also be difficult to inform all members of a congregation that meetings are back on.
On the other hand, there are some signs that this may well not happen and we may see an increase in attendance (reason later on).
Growth of Small Groups
With restriction on larger gatherings likely to continue for longer, we may well see small groups become more important. If restrictions on larger gatherings continue but smaller groups are free to meet, we could see small groups become the heart of the church rather than an optional extra.
The Decentralization of the Church
Will that trend continue? Personally, my church has seen more people organising little activities on their own and inviting more people along. Things like prayer meetings over zoom, sharing Bible verses and their application, or playing online games together.
I know I’m not alone as I’ve heard of similar effects in other churches. More engagements from more church members.
There are some issues that can arise such as the risk of bad Bible teaching coming in and manipulators seeking leverage, but there are ways to mitigate those risks. Perhaps this will be a new normal where instead of campuses, smaller units connected not just to one centre will become the new normal.
There is another long term impact of COVID-19 on churches which saddens me. Churches closing. This is the prospect that saddens me the most but I think it’s worth discussing. It’s now clear that the global economy is under some difficult conditions with recession not impossible.
The longer these difficult measures are kept in place, the longer the more difficult it may be for businesses, individuals and by extension, churches.
If congregation members are unemployed or have cash shortages and are less generous (not to mention members stopping giving due to unemployment and no meetings) we may well see some churches shut down.
Helping Those in Need
Our Church is based in a tourist hotspot, as a result some church members have lost their jobs already and the longer this outbreak goes on, the more likely it is that more of our members will fall on hard times economically.
We’ve set up a fund for our church members who need help during this time but with an unclear end point and many not in our church affected, the call to care for our neighbour is one we can’t fail to heed.
People Seeking Answers
Difficult times make us all ask questions. Christians and non-christians.
In the book of James, he describes these as tests of our faith and lead to maturing in our faith.
During these times, Churches and christians are called to be light to the world, to provide hope in dark times, and to share the love of Christ. I am not saying that this outbreak is good but our response can be.
One of the things we can certainly hope for is that the Church as a body will grow. If people are hurting and seeking answers, if we have been helping and serving then I can certainly see the Lord using what was ill for his glory, just as he did with Joseph.
What Do You Think?
Although some of these are certain bets, other predictions are less certain. The situation is still fluctuating with many lockdowns extending. Still, it is worth our time thinking about what will the fruit of this experience be.
Will we end up in a Ready Player One VR focused church world or will we decide that we need a break from the constant connections of the internet.
Is there a long term impact of COVID-19 on churches that concerns you most? Are there any other outcomes you see happeneing?