Over the last four weeks, Barna has been checking in weekly on the state of pastors, their families and their congregants in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis through national pastor panel surveys. In addition to these weekly check-ins, each Monday, Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman, accompanied by expert guests and fellow church leaders, have presented and commented on the survey findings during a live broadcast of the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the trends we’ve consistently tracked over the last month—the well-being of pastors and their people, when pastors believe they can return to worship in their usual location and the state of virtual attendance and online giving. You can watch the latest broadcast of ChurchPulse Weekly here, or, come Thursday (April 16, 2020), you can listen to the most recent episode wherever you get your podcasts.
Overall, pastors and their congregants are holding steady despite current disruptions
This week (April 7-13) saw little change in the well-being of pastors, with 42 percent noting they are doing “very good” (vs. 36% last week), 44 percent “good” (vs. 49%) and 14 percent continuing to report they are “okay.” Just 1 percent answered “poor” (vs. 2% last week).
To the best of their knowledge, exactly one in 10 pastors (10%) reports that the people in their church are doing “very good,” while another seven in 10 (68%) say their congregants are doing “good,” a percentage that has risen significantly since last week (60%). Nearly a quarter of U.S. clergy (23%) reports their people are “okay,” another proportion that has seen significant change since last week (31%).
Last week, 97 percent of pastors reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the overall well-being of the people in their church (11% a lot, 59% some, 27% a little). This week, nearly the same number of pastors (97%) say their congregants’ well-being is affected, and researchers saw an uptick in the numbers for “a lot” (16%) and “some” (64%).
Half of pastors hope to be back in their usual building / location by May
This week, when asked when they thought they’d be able to host church services in their usual location or building, the majority of pastors (47%) predicts this will happen in May. Just last week, 57 percent had answered the same. Current data show that while a large percentage hopes to be back in their locations sometime next month, many pastors have shifted their sights to later dates such as June (35%), July / August (14%) or later (1%).
Virtual attendance increased surrounding Easter
Leading up to the first digital Easter, pastors and churches seemed to be settling into being separated physically during Sunday services but together in spirit. Since Barna began tracking church’s virtual attendance four weeks ago, pastors have continued to report an upward trend in virtual attendance when compared to regular (in-person) attendance.
We continue to see an uptick in online participation this past week, with 49 percent of church leaders saying attendance had increased (23% much higher, 26% higher). Three in 10 (30%) report attendance was lower than usual (10% much less, 20% slightly less) and 12 percent say it was about the same. Currently, 3 percent of pastors say their church doesn’t stream / offer their services online, while another 6 percent report being unsure how virtual attendance compared to in-person participation.
Financial giving saw a slight increase over the last week
Since national social distancing guidelines were put in place at the beginning of April, and many more were set locally before then, pastors have reported that financial giving has decreased. Whether because of the unprecedented toll COVID-19 disruptions have taken on congregants’ finances or because the reminder of the offering plate isn’t visible, church giving has continued to trend low over the past month.
This week, however, while church leaders still report lower than average giving (21% significantly down, 29% slightly down), these new percentages seem hopeful when compared to last week’s numbers (28% significantly down, 36% slightly down), or at least indicate a leveling. Three in 10 pastors (31%) say giving stayed the same, an increase from the week prior (23%), with one in five noting giving this week had increased (7% significantly, 12% slightly).
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 875 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–April 13, 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
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