Church Life Undergoing Big Changes

The statement, “Church life has drastically changed,” is a glaring understatement. Data gleaned from a recent online sampling during the first week of August by The Baptist Courier gives a glimpse of just how much congregational life across the state now differs after nearly six months of heightened health precautions.

Although in-person attendance has fallen to less than 50 percent in many instances because of seating limits imposed on large gatherings, church offerings remain strong. About 56 percent of pastors reported their offerings were the same or even higher than before, with one pastor even saying his church’s offerings were up by $15,000.

Six in 10 churches have not conducted the Lord’s Supper since the pandemic began. Of those churches observing the sacrament, many used individual, prepackaged wafers and juice cups, or asked members to bring their own elements to 

drive-in services. Those members who were worshipping online were encouraged to provide their own elements at home.

One church that responded to the survey had observed a baptism, with only about 20 family members in attendance. One indicated that baptisms have been done in many different ways, with individual families and small groups, by using a swimming pool, a galvanized tub, and even a bathtub. Another church was planning a river baptism service.

Only about half of those surveyed that had reopened for Sunday morning worship were also holding Sunday night services and/or Wednesday evening activities for men, women or youth.

Among the changes pastors see coming as a result of the ongoing pandemic are maintaining an increased online presence and greater use of social media to connect with members. One respondent commented, “We will continue to try and upgrade the quality of our online services and will likely continue to use offering plates as people exit rather than passing the plates. I do foresee a struggle in breaking the habit of online attendance. While it has been a great asset in engaging people now, it is certainly not the ideal way for Christians to gather for worship.”

Almost half of respondents said they knew of someone in their congregation who had contracted the virus. Four knew of five or more people who were or had been sick, and one reported having about 10 cases among church members. While most of those who were sick appear to have had mild to moderate symptoms, at least five were hospitalized.

Among those with school teachers and administrators in their congregations, some respondents said they seemed comfortable, in general, with beginning classes. One respondent, however, observed, “We have teachers and administrators who are apprehensive about being in person. All of them understand that children learn best in person, but they cannot see how it can be done safely. They are also apprehensive about how to care for their own children when they have to be in school while their children are not.”

While a majority of the pastors responding stated their morale and that of their staff was good, a few acknowledged that circumstances were “definitely trying,” they felt emotionally fatigued, or they were troubled about the future.

In addition to online Sunday school classes and Bible studies, two new ministries begun by churches include an outreach to a hospital by providing food for nurses who were taking care of ICU patients, and helping facilitate the online learning of school students by providing a safe place for families to send children. One church has provided masks and snacks for school teachers, one gave gift cards to teachers, and another was planning a drive-through style, back-to-school bash.