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Tracking the Religious Response to the Pandemic

Amid much speculation and pundit prophesying about how the pandemic is affecting congregations and will reshape their future, several denominational groups and research organizations are studying the issue in real-time. This isn’t an easy task. Trying to track congregational and public reactions to the pandemic is like attempting to hit a randomly moving target. Nevertheless, much can be learned from these glimpses into the evolving response by religious leaders and the general public. The Faith Communities Today (FACT) collaborative project has attempted to archive many of these research efforts. There have been more than 20 studies so far.

What do all these reports indicate, you might ask? There are no simple summaries given the diversity of surveys, audiences, congregational sizes, and the disparity of the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, four distinct phases seem apparent in the results:

Lost and Reactive Phase – Surveys from early in the pandemic indicated that most religious groups didn’t know what to do. They reacted the best they could, but many were unsure about technology, how to offer worship virtually, whether online access and usage would be feasible for everyone, and what to do next. Religious leaders needed resources and help desperately. Congregations closed temporarily or went online with a variety of formats. There were a lot of mistakes and giving plummeted. The majority of congregations were not ready for a crisis like COVID-19.

Hardship but Hopeful Phase – By April, a number of surveys found religious groups beginning to understand the technology and getting into their virtual groove with online giving and digital ministry.  For many congregations, giving began to track upward (though not to pre-COVID levels). Congregational functioning was nothing like before, but leaders were more confident and creative outreach efforts were beginning to be implemented. Being a religious community at a distance was difficult but congregations were functioning overall. Of particular surprise to faith leaders were the large number of participants in their online worship, more than had ever attended in person. 

Resilient Stability and/or Expectations of Resurrection Phase – Into May, quite a few surveys indicated a resilience mixed with attempts at creative efforts of adaptation. At the same time, a gap began to open between Protestant churches in different locales, regions of the country, and at different ends of the theological spectrum. Much of this was likely driven by the disparity of initial outbreak patterns. More theologically moderate, urban and east coast churches expressed the desire to hunker down and remain digital as long as necessary. At the same time, some evangelical churches in the south, midwest and western portions of the U.S. began to plan for, or attempt, a phased reopening. They had a glimpse of the end of the pandemic and were preparing for it.  Giving had rebounded or was on the road to recovery for many congregations.

Exhaustion and Uncertainty Phase – By June (and anecdotally into July), as much as a third of evangelical congregations were opening, though most had not returned to in-person gatherings and were uncertain about reopening timelines. At the same time, positive cases were beginning to spike in parts of the country previously untouched by the virus. Uncertainty and anxiety were evident in the public, with nearly two-thirds of Americans saying they were somewhat or very uncomfortable attending an in-person religious service. This same tension is being felt within congregations with some members having to return to work while other remain at home, so some are more comfortable gathering than others. In every case, however, both clergy and congregational members are exhausted due to the continual anxiety about the virus (especially as it is now dramatically increasing), uncertainty about a clear way forward to “normalcy,” and the significant additional effort it takes to do virtual ministry with added pastoral care and social ministry demands. 

With no clear end in sight, the religious response to the pandemic continues. Check the FACT site regularly for new research as the impact continues to be assessed and reported.

 

For The CRG Created For The CRG
Five Things to Know about Assessments

Assessment tools are used in congregational planning. Such tools are helpful in strategic planning, formation of new programs, improvement of existing projects and more.

There are internal assessment tools and external assessment tools. Internal tools help you learn about your congregation, its members, staff and other constituents who are part of your congregation. External tools help you learn more about your neighborhood and the community around you.

Here are five things to keep in mind when thinking about using assessment tools.


  1. Surveys that you create yourself are not typically reliable. You often receive opinions rather than good data. Plus, surveys that you create yourself do not typically have additional data sets to which you can compare the information you gather. So, I do not recommend surveys that you create. 

  2. Look for tools that have data sets that you can use as comparisons to the information you gather. This is especially true for internal assessments. 

  3. Tools that measure strengths are helpful because you can connect the data to your congregation’s capacity and passion. Assessments that focus on problems or weaknesses can be dispiriting. It is typically more productive to fortify strengths than to try to fix weaknesses. 

  4. It is natural to feel overwhelmed when you receive information from assessments. Don’t try to interpret all of it at once. Start with the data that most closely relates to your original reason for using the assessment tool. Go back to your original questions. Set your original questions alongside the data. What behaviors come to mind? What action steps get generated? In other words, allow yourself only so much time figuring out the data. Go with what generates the most energy and discern what actions, however small, might be first steps. 

  5. Assessment tools should help conversation along. They are not the lasts word. The conversation you have about the results of the assessment is more important than the data. You know the tool is helping you when it leads you to a really good face-to-face conversation. 

     

For The CRG Created For The CRG
Congregational Resources during COVID-19

During the rapidly evolving pandemic, please know that your congregation is not alone. We offer this short list of resources that you might continue your work faithfully and safely.

Looking for different resources? Get information that meets your needs by connecting with us at info@thecrg.org or click Chat with an Expert at the bottom of this page.

Resource List for Online Church

This succinct guide quickly connects leaders to information on a variety of topics: COVID-19 processes and checklists, streaming software and equipment, faith formation, online giving and recorded webinars.

Concerning COVID-19

The Episcopal Church provides guidelines for compassionate Christians, instructions for live streaming and mass messaging, plus creative worship and faith formation resources.

Coronavirus Resources for the Church

This Wheaton College resource center offers a congregational planning manual (also available in Spanish), a free weekly webinar to prepare congregations for the coronavirus, a free online summit starting March 26, as well as tip sheets and links to top resources.

How to Lead Calmly in a Global Outbreak

In this article, experienced pastors George Mason and Mark Wingfield provide a pep-talk for faith leaders to lead calmly in a time of crisis.

Q&A: How to care for the elderly without putting them at risk of coronavirus

In this article, the chief medical officer at AARP offers advice for common COVID questions and how to support elderly loved ones.

Virtual Shabbat Box

Create a virtual shabbat with short meditations and readings. Instead of a physical group gathering, engage the senses through rituals that heal the body, mind, and spirit.

Resources for Community- and Faith-Based Leaders

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers official information for emergency planning and action steps, verified information about the virus, cleaning and disinfecting practices, and important organizational practices.

Three Big Communication Mistakes Organizations are Making During the COVID-19 Crisis

Communications leader Kem Meyer offers advice to organizations about communications during the pandemic.

 

Books
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The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose
The authors of this book provide arguments and data proving that increasing generosity can result in a more positive outlook, more energy, and positive relationships.
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The Externally Focused Quest: Becoming the Best Church for the Community
This book will help your congregation take the first step towards becoming more missionally engaged, inspiring new ways to leave an impact and providing success stories of congregations who did it.
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The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
This book is based off a four-part biblical peacemaking method centered around the New Testament, giving congregations tools to take the first step towards reconciliation.
Articles
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Signage
This article helps congregations assess how their signage adds or detracts from their identity, mission, and values.
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Resources for a Church that Wants to Fight for Black Lives
This guide helps congregations educate themselves about systemic racism and move toward racial justice.
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Congregation-Based Community Organizing: Building Just Communities
This short booklet gives an overview of congregation-based community organizing (CBCO) and basic steps to join justice movements.
Web Resources
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U.S. Religion During COVID-19
This page provides data and research findings from Faith Communities Today to help congregational leaders understand emerging trends.
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Teaching Tolerance
This resource hub helps students K-12 to learn about diversity and social justice issues.
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Christians and Racial Justice: A Discussion Guide
This four-part guide educates about the original sin of America - racism - and invites congregations to reflect. Then it encourages discussion about the church’ s work in racial reconciliation.
Organizations
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Faith Communities Today (FACT)
This multifaith research coalition shares data and statistics about vital congregational practices, gathering insights from more than 40 faith traditions in the United States.
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Natural Church Development
This organization strengthens congregations by surveying congregants, planning for growth, and providing coaching.
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Cool Solutions Group
This company assists congregations in planning, building, and managing their facilities.
Media
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10 Ways to Appropriately Respond to Racially-Fueled Events
This workshop shares 10 ways faith leaders can process and respond to racially fueled violence like police shootings.
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The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism
This book and accompanying DVD calls for honest reflection and urgent steps to undo racist systems within the church.
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How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon
In this webinar Dr. Frank Thomas shares how to preach and promote justice with moral imagination.
Periodicals
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periodical
Lifelong Faith Journal
The Life Long Faith Journal is an online free magazine available in PDF format that covers a wide range of topics, such as: faith formation in a missional age, cultivating a community of practice, the emerging media and the gospel, church leaders and tech visionaries, hybrid networking, drawing children to the center of congregational life, faith formation in small congregations, less talk-more action, infant faith formation and doing children’ s ministry differently.
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Generations
In this bi-monthly online magazine issue of Net Results, readers will find a number of related themes around the topic of Generations.
periodical
RELEVANT Magazine
Since 2002, RELEVANT Media Group has published RELEVANT magazine, intended to speak to Christians in their 20s and 30s about how God is relevant to every aspect of culture.
Events
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Rural Ministry Conference
This conference focuses on educating and empowering prospective and current clergy, for ministry and in general, at rural congregations.
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Creating a Culture of Renewal
This series of education events hosted by Rebekah Simon-Peter equips participants to lead congregational change.
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Wild Goose Festival
This event is part outdoor music festival, part retreat, and part justice conference. It brings speakers and performers from across the theological spectrum, and hosts interactive workshops.
Software
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software
WeShare: Online Giving for Churches and Other Community Organizations
This company makes online donation software that can be used with computers, tablets, and smartphones, and through credit cards, debit cards, or electronic transfer of funds.
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SecureGive
This customizable giving platform provides many giving and reporting options for large congregations.
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Servant Keeper
This Servant PC management software offers a low-cost and straightforward interface to track giving and attendance, create custom reports, and communicate with members.
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