May 12, 2020

30% of Pastors Are Ready to Resume Physical Worship Services But Others Remain Uncertain


For the past seven weeks, Barna has been checking in on the state of U.S. pastors through a national pastor panel, gathering data on how church leaders and their congregations are faring in light of the current pandemic. Each Monday, on the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast, Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman, along with expert guests, discuss the findings from the most recent research, offering insight into the current moment as well as the coming days.

This week, Nieuwhof and Kinnaman were joined on the live broadcast by Thom Rainer and Myron Pierce to discuss how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted average churches across the U.S., offering advice to both pastors who want to reopen their churches and leaders who are still leaning into digital discipleship for the time being. You can watch the latest broadcast of ChurchPulse Weekly here, or, come Thursday (May 14, 2020), you can listen to the most recent episode wherever you get your podcasts. 

Overall, Pastors Are Certain Their Church Will Survive the Crisis
This week, nearly all U.S. church leaders (96%) express confidence in their church’s survival rate despite current disruptions. A quarter (25%) is confident, with another seven in 10 (71%) stating they are “very” confident in this scenario. Three percent remain unsure, and a single percent doubts their church doors will reopen again.

What makes the majority of pastors so sure their church will reopen again? Three in five (60%) believe their people are excited and anxious to return to church. One-quarter attributes this confidence to their current financial standing, with 21 percent saying their finances have remained stable during the crisis and another 4 percent voicing optimism that their finances will recover. One in 10 (11%) believes that God will not allow their church to close.

For some pastors, like Myron Pierce, senior pastor of Mission Church in Omaha, Nebraska, their church has not only survived; it has thrived during this unique ministry season. Says Pierce, “Our ministry skyrocketed beyond our wildest dreams, and here’s why… God’s given us a dream to saturate every inner city in America with diverse, hopeful churches. One of the things I thought about before COVID was the fact that there are over 450 inner cities just in America alone—I’m not going to see this happen. But in the middle of this COVID era, all of the sudden, I see very clearly how it can happen and why it’s happening right now.”

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30% of Church Leaders Believe They Will be Able to Resume Physical Worship Services in May
Current data show that while half of pastors (50%) don’t expect to physically host worship services in their usual location until June, another three in 10 (30%) are ready to reopen this month. Still, 17 percent of pastors believe their congregation won’t begin to physically gather together again until July or August, and the remaining 3 percent are holding out for even later in the year.

For those churches who are planning, or already have begun, to resume in-person gatherings, Thom Rainer, founder and CEO of Church Answers and former CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, has some advice to share. “There are so many different ways to address [reopening], but one of the things I’m encouraging church leaders to do, especially smaller churches, is to find out what your peers are doing in other churches,” states Rainer. “Do not go as a lone ranger because you could be perceived as the ‘bad guy’ if you reopen too soon or too late. See if you can develop some type of consensus with other pastors and church leaders so that you’re all on the same page.”

Rainer concludes, “You may not get a perfect unanimity, but if you get a consensus, it will help.”

For updates on other current trends such as online attendance, financial giving, community outreach and more, check out this post on the five things we’ve learned during COVID-19.

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Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @barnagroup
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About the Research
Barna Group conducted this survey online among 1,575 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–May 4, 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

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash.

About Barna
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

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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