Though a majority of U.S. churches reports being open for in-person worship services right now, Barna data show that a significant amount (40%) are still completely closed (3%) or only open for limited use by staff (14%) and for small gatherings (19%). With this percent still being closed for normal use, churchgoers across the nation are still using digital tools to access a virtual church experience each week.
In the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, podcast hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman are joined by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C., to discuss pastoring in the digital age.
A Picture Is Worth More Than a Thousand Words
Batterson offers encouragement to pastors who may feel downhearted about the continued social distancing measures that are keeping them apart from their congregation.
“The brain processes print on a page at about 100 bits per second. It processes pictures at a billion bits per second, so a picture is not worth a thousand words. It’s worth 10 million words. Here we are with these screens at our access. The medieval Church used stained glass to tell the gospel story in pictures; we have this incredible opportunity to tell the gospel story in moving pictures.”
“I love preaching and believe in the power of the pulpit, but anytime you can put something on the screen, there’s a certain amount of impact you can have because we are fearfully and wonderfully made with this visual cortex,” Batterson continues, “and I think it’s up to us to really steward it.”
God Wants to Add to the Church Daily, But We’re Stuck at Weekly
When asked what they see happening to their congregants’ personal faith journey during the pandemic, the majority of pastors (66%) currently says they see their congregants’ faith staying about the same. One in five (20%) sees it increasing, though another 14 percent are worried it will diminish.
Further, pastors worry about a decline in church attendance once the crisis has resolved. While 14 percent say their church attendance will grow, three in 10 (31%) say is will stay about the same. Two in five (44%), however, believe their church attendance will decline slightly, and 4 percent are worried it will decline dramatically.
Batterson combats these beliefs with a biblical reminder of what God says he will do for his Church.
“This crisis is affecting the Church in many ways,” begins Batterson, “but I’ll tell you one thing for sure, God is trying to get us out of this weekly, weekend mindset. We all want Acts 2:47 when God added to his Church daily, but then we ignore Acts 2:46. We want God to add to his Church daily while we gather weekly. It’s not going to happen.”
“Right now, God is giving us a gift. The gift is us asking, ‘How do we be the Church every single day?’” Batterson concludes. “That’s why [my church is] trying to innovate some ideas right now to make sure that we are a daily church, so that we live that out Monday through Friday.”
Keeping the Faith During Shifts in Life and Church
Despite the majority of pastors (80%) saying they are doing good right now, past pastor surveys during the crisis suggest church leaders still struggle, especially in terms of their spiritual and emotional health.
This, along with churchgoers’ desire for more, bite-sized spiritual content throughout the week, can weigh heavily on any church leader. In light of this, Batterson shares what has kept him going and engaged with his ministry throughout the past several months, even while shifting gears and changing rhythms in his sermon-sharing process.
“[Producing seven devotionals a week] has actually become a much easier rhythm than preparing for a weekend message,” Batterson explains. “I’ve never felt more daily dependence upon the Holy Spirit in my entire life than right now. Every single day, I need to be spirit-filled and spirit-led.”
Batterson continues, “There are very simple spiritual disciplines that I’m practicing. I had a Bible-reading plan before this whole thing happened, and I’ve been working the plan every single day, and every single day I feel like God is speaking to me from his Word. Prayer has become even more of a priority [right now], and when that happens, you start speaking out of the overflow of what God’s doing in your spirit.”
“It’s not too hard to just flip that phone,” Batterson reminds listeners. “Everybody’s good at selfies these days. Flip the phone, hit the button—and I think in some ways people like some of the less produced, very personal moments. … So I’ve just been doing these little two-minute messages, and they were raw enough and real enough that people really respond to them.”
About the Research
COVID-19 Data: Barna Group conducted these online surveys among Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–August 17, 2020. 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.
Data Collection Dates
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Week 12, n=203, June 26-29, 2020
Week 13, n=256, July 9-14, 2020
Week 14, n=285, July 24-26, 2020
Week 15, n=336, August 13-17, 2020
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