As the U.S. continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic by extending social distancing practices through the end of April, church leaders across the nation are coming to terms with the fact that Easter 2020 is going to look much different than in years past.
Over the last two weeks, Barna has been collecting data from church leaders across the country, asking what they plan to do for this year’s Easter services in light of the current crisis. Many pastors share a plan to host Easter services digitally, though some say their congregations will still meet, while others are thinking of cancelling Easter services until further notice.
Also included in this article is expert commentary from Nona Jones and Bobby Gruenewald, who joined Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman on the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast last week to discuss the data and offer valuable insight to church leaders for the coming days. You can watch the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode here or stream the audio on your favorite podcast app.
Many Church Leaders Plan to Host Digital Easter as They Continue Adjusting to Ministry Changes
Overall, a majority of pastors (82%) says that their church has already made changes to their methods of ministry, with seven in 10 (70%) indicating that they are still adjusting and 12 percent sharing satisfaction with their ministerial changes. Another 8 percent of church leaders report just beginning to make changes and 6 percent say they are planning changes. Just 1 percent said they weren’t planning to make any changes, with 3 percent saying they were unsure if changes were going to be made.
With Easter just around the corner, a majority of pastors (58%) says they plan to hold a digital service with 45 percent sharing plans to livestream online and another 13 percent recording an Easter message to send out to congregants. While one in five (20%) admits there is no plan in place yet, others say they will hold an outdoor service (10%), find another unique way to convene (5%) or meet as usual (2%) this Easter. Just 5 percent plan to postpone their Easter celebration for the time being.
“If you as a pastor have a certain way you preach or approach [the Easter message], I think it’s important for you to do your best to bring who you are to the message,” says Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and Innovation Leader at Life.Church and founder of the YouVersion Bible app. “It’s great if you can have some level of worship incorporated in it as well. It doesn’t have to be the same type of experience as you would have in your physical environment. … So whatever that looks like—people are relatively forgiving right now—I would incorporate some aspect of worship into what’s being built for Easter.”
“Even if you’re not doing weekly online gatherings right now, there should be sufficient time to build some type of a video experience [for Easter],” concludes Gruenewald with a note of encouragement. “If all you have is a smartphone to record, it’s possible to get a reasonable quality video. I also know that there are some larger churches that are, if possible, opening up their studios to let smaller churches record their Easter services. I think this is a great example of how churches that have resources can help support churches that don’t during this time.”
Nona Jones, head of faith-based partnerships at Facebook and pastor, alongside her husband Tim, at Open Door Ministries in Gainesville, Florida, also encourages church leaders to stream a service and to stream it live when possible.
“What my husband and I have been doing and what I’ve been encouraging others to do is to answer questions real-time,” says Jones. “Invite people to ask questions, invite people to comment. If you can, go live. Acknowledge [your congregants] as they come online; people need that acknowledgement right now more than anything.”
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 180 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 24–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.
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