A growing number of pastors believe their churches will not meet in person until 2021 because of the coronavirus.
As Christian Headlines previously reported, last week, Andy Stanley, pastor at North Point Community Church in suburban Atlanta announced that they would not meet in person until 2021, becoming the first in what some believe will be a growing trend.
According to Christianity Today, the Barna Group surveyed a group of pastors over the past week and 5 percent of them said they did not expect to have in-person worship services for the rest of 2020. While the number may seem small, in May, there were no respondents who thought they would not meet until next year.
Of the pastors who were surveyed most recently, 49 percent said their churches were already gathering weekly for worship, which is down from 56 percent in late June. Twenty-six percent of pastors said they had plans to resume meeting in July or August and 16 percent indicated their churches would meet in person again in September or October. Another 5 percent do not anticipate gathering in person until November or December, meaning that 10 percent of the pastors surveyed believed their churches would not meet together until at least November.
Stanley explained the rationale for not gathering for worship until 2021 in a video announcement to their church body. He said they would only have a small percentage who would be able to attend and that people would be susceptible to infection if they attended. He announced that the church’s staff would shift their focus to creating resources to engage people until their church could meet together again.
Stanley said, “We are intentionally an outward-facing organization. Spending time and money to create safe-ish Sunday morning gatherings struck us as insider-focused.” He continued, “By suspending Sunday morning gatherings we are able to create a strategy that impacts 100 percent of our attendees and has the potential to impact their friends as well. In-person services during COVID is neither missional nor evangelistic unless, of course, the mission of the church is to gather in a building on Sunday morning.”
Other recent Barna research explored how COVID-19 has affected church attendance among practicing Christians. They found that 32 percent of practicing Christians had stopped attending church, either in person or online during the pandemic. 35 percent are still attending their pre-COVID church and only their church. 14 percent had switched churches while 18 percent of practicing Christians were viewing multiple churches online each week.
In spite of Barna’s findings, Stanley remains optimistic about the church’s future after the pandemic. He said, “I’m absolutely confident that the church and our local churches will not only survive this, but I think we’re going to thrive as a result.”
Photo courtesy: Sarah Noltner/Unsplash
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”