Nobody could have anticipated the COVID-19 crisis, or the sudden needs it would present to churches. During this unprecedented season of ministry, Barna has begun gathering data on a weekly basis to offer an up-to-date snapshot of the well-being, challenges and logistical shifts in churches in the U.S.
Below is a recap of some of the findings covered in the first two episodes of ChurchPulse Weekly, a podcast hosted by Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman who, each Monday, are joined by guests and experts to make sense of the data and share valuable insights and direction for the current moment and coming days. This article specifically looks at the well-being of church leaders and their congregants in the midst of this global pandemic.
You can watch the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode here or stream the podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you’d like to share and track the needs of your own church, pastor, congregant and leader polls are available each week in a new crisis toolkit for churches.
The Vast Majority of Pastors Reports They and Their People Are Doing Well Overall
When asked “overall, how are you doing today?” a majority of pastors says they are doing well (36% very good, 48% good) with just under one in seven (15%) saying they are “okay” and only 1 percent answering “poor.”
When asked how the people in their church are doing, pastors, to the best of their knowledge, indicate their congregants are doing well overall (10% very good, 62% good), with just three in 10 stating their people are just “okay” (29%).
Nearly all church leaders say their congregants’ well-being has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (18% a lot, 53% some, 23% a little). Five percent of pastors report that their people have not been affected, with 1 percent claiming to be unsure. Only 1 percent of pastors express concerns of their congregants personal faith diminishing, while over half (53%) expect congregants’ faith to stay the same. Forty-six percent of church leaders believe their congregants’ personal faith will increase.
“A week ago, we found that two out of three churches said that people had been affected in their congregation. Now three out of four pastors say that COVID has started to take an effect on the overall well-being of the people in their church,” states Barna president David Kinnaman. “Week over week, we’re seeing the beginning signs of this crisis taking a longer-term toll on pastors, on their families and on their people.”
Pastors have also shared their expectations on the trajectory of the disruptions caused by this pandemic. Last week, over one in three (37%) assumed it will “get much worse” within the next week, and half (49%) agreed it could “get a little worse.” A minority of church leaders believed the disruptions will “stay about the same” (9%) or “improve a little” (5%).
This week, one in four (25%) assumes it will “get much worse” in the coming week and over two in five (44%) agree it could “get a little worse.”
Most Churches Are Focused on Communicating a Message of Hope
Sixty-one percent of pastors indicate that the greatest priority for their church overall is “communicating a message of faith and hope to people in the middle of the crisis.” Others are focused on “putting in place technology solutions for streaming our services and / or online giving” (25%), reflecting the need for the church community to continue gathering. Other priorities, though less pressing at the moment, include “collecting and distributing needed items like food / supplies / emergency funds” (4%), “offering ongoing digital or distance ministry options for our children / youth” (3%), “mobilizing people to serve our local community” (3%) and “putting in place the right safety measures to protect staff and congregants” (3%).
While 28 percent of pastors say their church doesn’t yet have an official, organized response to this crisis, many have also shared the ways in which their church is serving the local community. About one-quarter of pastors (24%) confirms their church is “helping distribute food and supplies,” with a slightly larger percentage (34%) saying they are “reaching out to elderly, isolated and at-risk community members.” Five percent are “providing financial resources to those who are struggling” and another 1 percent are “providing childcare for those who need it.”
“I believe the Church is needed more now than ever before,” says Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and Innovation Leader at Life.Church and founder of the YouVersion Bible app. “I feel it’s imperative that we keep church doors open, if not physically, then certainly digitally. From a relational perspective, we need to keep them open because we have emotional and spiritual needs that are significant during this time in our communities.”
“That takes form not just in online church,” Gruenewald explains, “but also in finding new and innovative ways that we can serve in our communities. … This is a time of experimentation for the Church. There’s a global wave of church and ministry innovation taking place right now.”
Pastors Report Innovation Around Technology and Are Certain Their Church Will Survive the Crisis
When asked where they have seen their church grow the most in this unprecedented time, nearly half of pastors (48%) select “innovation around technology.” Another one in five pastors (22%) affirms that “church leaders are taking more initiative and caring more deeply for congregants.” Eleven percent say their church has “increased commitment to prayer.” Other positive responses include: “greater spiritual openness in people’s hearts” (5%), “new and unexpected leaders stepping up” (3%), “our church stepping up to help our community” (3%), “attendance and engagement is increasing” (2%) and “increased small group attendance” (2%).
Given this, it’s not surprising that only a handful of pastors are worried about their church’s survival (5% unsure, 1% not very confident, 1% not at all confident). Though the challenges facing churches right now are clearly many, over nine in 10 pastors report that they are confident their church will survive the COVID-19 crisis (63% very confident, 31% confident).
Podcast host Nieuwhof concludes, “One of the things you can do, church leaders, is sign up for the ChurchPulse Weekly toolkit, so that when you get access to the resources, you can craft a really simple poll to ask your city what their needs are. Then, in real-time, you can prepare your weekend service knowing how your city is feeling and what your community is struggling with.”
In an effort to help serve the Church during this time of unprecedented disruption and as a continued part of our research into the State of the Church 2020, Barna and Gloo have created the ChurchPulse Weekly Crisis Toolkit, a free resource that includes three ways to help pastors see clearly and lead effectively in this time of uncertainty. To learn more about the Crisis Toolkit, click here.
About the Research
Barna Group conducted this survey online among 434 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–March 30. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size. Within the article, mentions of “last week” refer to the data from week one, which represents 222 pastors and was collected from March 20-23. Mentions of “this week” refer to the data from week two, which represents 212 pastors and was collected from March 23-30. Mentions of “overall” represent the aggregate responses of all 434 pastors surveyed over the last two weeks.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020