In just a matter of weeks, the majority of churches across the country have switched to or enhanced their online ministry. It's the "new normal" for 2020. And it means a digital Easter as well.
About 400 pastors responded to a Barna Group survey during the last week of March and half reported that they're experiencing online "attendance" that's higher than their normal in-person Sunday service attendance. One in three pastors said they think this growth will continue after the current crisis has passed.
But eight in 10 also reported that giving is down – and that's led to some cutting staff hours and compensation.
Dr. Walter Kim, the new president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), is encouraging churches to ramp up their ability to receive offerings and tithes online.
He told CBN News "Churches that have online giving as a regular practice or significant portion of their congregation engaging in that--they're going to experience a bit of a decline immediately – but they'll be able to bounce back. Churches that are in areas of the country where that isn't as available have some pretty significant challenges."
The NAE recently partnered with the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College to host a COVID-19 Church Online Summit for pastors and staff grappling with how best to serve their congregations and communities right now.
Many church leaders believe the pandemic represents a unique opportunity to share the Gospel.
A recent Pew Research Center report showed that more than half of adults are praying for the end of the crisis – including people who normally don't pray.,
Dr. Jaime Aten, executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, says research shows people head to the community of faith when they're in need. "Churches are often one of the first places people turn to when they are in crisis – whether they need physical, emotional or spiritual support," he said.
Kim says he's noticed people thinking more deeply about eternity. "We're at a point in our country where people are asking pretty serious questions about meaning in life and where do you find hope in the midst of anxiety? These are questions that open the door for the Gospel," he said.
Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, says the pandemic could usher in a spiritual awakening. "We need to understand God may be using this to revive His church and to call his people back to Him," said Floyd.
The current challenges for churches include preparing for more COVID-19 cases and more deaths.
It also includes preparing for Easter. Barna found a majority of pastors say they will host a digital Easter service. Others will organize an outdoor service.
Some are trying a hybrid approach. Pastors at River Oak Church in Chesapeake will offer pre-packaged Communion elements available via a church drive-through on Thursday. Church attendees can then take Communion in their homes Friday night during a live-streamed Good Friday service.
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