Commentary by Dr. Whitesel, 8/11/22. Take a look at the chart below from my seminar, Growing the Post-pandemic Chruch. On the fourth line you will find research which research reveals two important points:
Churches offering only onsite worship are preferred by 50% (of all ages)
Churches offering both onsite AND online worship: are preferred by 57% (of ages 55 & under)
This chart shows the harvest field has moved with the majority now preferring churches that offer both online and on site options. In my seminars (and book) I give many reasons for having onsite AND online options. Here are just a few:
People who “move away” can still enjoy and participate in the worship service to which they have become accustomed.
People with a disability may be able to attend an online church expression and participate more effectively.
People who are home-ridden due to illness or age can attend.
People who simply resonate with your “church’s personality” can attend your church.
Typically people will only drive 15 minutes to a church. But with an online option people from “anywhere on the globe, for any of the above reasons” can join you for worship.
Generally the church has declined from an average of one 137 attendees, 20 years ago to 65 attendees today. Below is a chart that illustrates that. This means if you were involved in a church 20 years ago, either as a pastor or attendee, you would see the average church drop to 50% smaller than it was! That’s scary for many congregants.
But, it’s important that people understand this is a societal motor (yet something we as leaders must address). However, this drop is not fully the fault of the local church. A church can remain comparatively plateaued, but be declining in attendance because of societal motors.
Here’s the handouts from the seminar, “Growing the Post-pandemic Church” with field-tested solutions. And here is a visual from that seminar on the “average” sized church according to the Hartford Institute’s American Religious Identification Survey (one of the most exhaustive surveys available today).
Digital natives are people raised in a world in which digital communication is the main form of communication. Rather than radio, TV or the telephone, the main way digital natives expect to communicate is over the Internet.
Yet, 30 years of church research has shown me that churches will adopt online communication—but will not raise it to the level of their onsite communication. This causes a problem in seven areas. Here are those areas with suggested solutions.
1. Foremost, those who tune in to online church services usually feel second class.
The leaders speak, the vast majority of the time, to the onsite attendees. Only occasionally do we mention the online attendees. This lack of parity can create the feeling that the onsite is a preferred class of congregant.
2. We communicate a biblical theology that prioritizes face-to-face communication.
Oftentimes church leaders will say a variation of: “There’s nothing like being together face to face.” But if we look at a Bible-based theology, we see that most of the Old and New Testament were not communicated face to face, but by Spirit-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17) writings.
Whether in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or more than 700 languages today, most people learned about the miracles of Jesus, not by being face to face with the miracles He performed, but by reading an account of it. Little wonder that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to empower us in our communication the message secondhand (John 14:26, 16:15).
The Holy Spirit is still alive and vibrant today, and can anoint our online communications as well. If you’re going to embrace a biblical theology, consider the theological principles of Spirit-anointed online communication.
3. Fully reaching out to guests and getting to know them is largely missing in online experiences.
Almost weekly I analyze online services for clients and colleagues. Repeatedly, I observe they are staffed with only a minimal crew. There might be one or sometimes two people.
Yet most churches tell me that they have a sizable online audience. One colleague has about 80 people in person. But his church reaches double that weekly that through their online service. Yet he only has two people designated to interact with the online congregation.
Now ask yourself, would you have just one or two greeters for an onsite service of 80? So why do we minimize our online workers when online watchers are often double our onsite size? Perhaps we do so because it’s “out of sight out of mind.” Maybe we do so because we have an unrecognized bias toward seeing people’s faces.
Or it can be argued we are unsure how many people are actually watching, because some of the data might be generated by a brief click. Regardless, we need to look at where the sheep are, and shepherd them. Appropriately, Jesus gave us the parable of the good shepherd (Matt. 18:10-14) who leaves the 99 to reach out to the one. And, Jesus tells us to see what the “Lord of the harvest” has sent … and pray for more laborers (Matt. 9:38).
4. This brings us to prayer.
Prayer opportunities are not usually as vibrant or prevalent during online worship services. Flavil Yeakley, a researcher at the University of Illinois, showed that people come to a church because of “needs” in their lives. These needs can be ranked as because of a) grief/bereavement, b) health problems, c) marital/family problems and d) financial problems.
When visitors come with these needs they are usually looking for someone who will sympathize and then pray for them. So, if you have hundreds of people watching your service online, how many do you have designated to pray for their needs they bring?
In my observation, to be a healthy church you need about 20 percent of your service attendance deployed in prayer ministry. If you have 100 online attendees, do you have 20 people reaching out to them online? And it’s not just about praying on Sunday morning, but it also means offering to them synchronous or asynchronous prayer chats during the week.
5. Online ministry reaches people who have physical challenges that make it uncomfortable for them to attend church.
This means many people cannot physically attend the church because of health or physical challenges. But they can tune in. And, we know that people with physical challenges can often feel second class.
Are we contributing to their feeling of being second class when they turn to our online services? Recently a series of articles drew attention to how people needing a wheelchair are often left in planes after everyone leaves. It makes them feel singled out and uncomfortable.
We too often make people feel singled out or uncomfortable when they visit our online churches. Are they feeling like they can worship with their eyes on the Lord and without people’s eyes on them?
6. Online ministry reaches people who have moved away.
Another type of physical challenge is for those who may have attended for many years, but because of family or vocation now live in another city. They often miss the smiling faces, the familiar leaders and the songs of a church.
Again, they can be made to further feel second class when leaders say, “I’m glad you’re here with us. Isn’t it better being together face to face?” For these people who still feel a strong historical and/or family connection to the church, this can make them feel like a hidden figure and even possibly an outcast.
To address this a Presbyterian church in Ohio, after hosting my seminar “Growing the Post-Pandemic Church,” decided to let congregants come by the camera after church and greet those online. The camera became a communication avenue between current and former attendees.
7. Online communication is often seen as a stopgap, post-pandemic measure . . . when in reality it’s the future.
Technology is pushing the quantity and quality of human communication. Online experiences now include holograms and immersive experiences. And in these new digital frontiers more of evangelism and discipleship will take place online.
In fact, some churches already are entirely online. As a professor, I couldn’t imagine such a scenario when I was told over 20 years ago that education would one day be largely online.
I was an onsite professor and enjoying the face-to-face community of my students. But here we are today with the majority of students getting their education online. It’s time for the church to see the future and begin to treat online ministry with equality.
Bob WhiteselBob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is a sought after speaker, church health consultant and award-winning writer of 14 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth. He holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is http://www.Leadership.church.Learn More »
Working remotely has become heavily favored by many workers over the last few years for many reasons that include better work-life balance, money saved on daily commutes and comfortable work environments are key factors that come to mind.
But according to a new study, this isn’t enough to keep workers around.
Paychex survey more than 1,000 employees across the U.S across various leadership levels about what they’re looking for in benefit packages. The participants also discussed how important these benefits are when considering the viability of the companies they’re working for.
While 88% of employees reported satisfaction with their benefits while working on-site, and that number dropped to 71% when they switched to remote work. That number rose to 77% for those participants whose companies offered upgraded benefits workers.
The survey also asked which benefits were most important. The most common benefit updates for remote workers included flexible working hours and performance bonuses. When asked which additional benefits were most important, employees said they valued a home office stipend (31%) and reimbursement for internet costs (30%).
It’s been six years since psychologist and University of Pennsylvania Professor Angela Duckworth published her bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. After more than two years of behavioral and societal shifts that have drastically altered cultural values around work and achievement (see: the Great Resignation), Duckworth discusses Grit in hindsight in the first episode of The Next Chapter, a new podcast created for the American Express Business Class platform, out today.
For Duckworth, the tenets of Grit still hold true—that high-achievers are people who not only possess passion, but who also persevere. But, especially in these post-pandemic years, finding passion, or a directional focus, an be difficult and confusing. “For many of us, work ethic, getting feedback, practicing things we can’t yet do, being resilient—all that is easier than knowing what to be persevering about,” she says.
…“When someone is super-gritty, it’s because they’re pursuing something they really love and they actually feel there’s hope to make progress on [it],” Duckworth says. “One reason people might be burning out right now is that, for whatever reasons, there is some erosion of that hope that the future is bright for what they’re doing.”
…“The lesson in the pandemic is that if we want to be grittier or if we want to understand how to make other people grittier, there has to be some valid sense of hope for that person—that what they’re doing is going to be enough and that the future has some reason to believe that it’s brighter,” Duckworth says.
by Joshua J. Mark, World History Encyclopedia, 5/24/22.
… There Were Reformers before Martin Luther
Before Martin Luther’s 95 Theses sparked the Reformation, other attempts had been made to correct what were seen as abuses and false teachings of the Catholic Church. The Paulicians and Waldensians had advocated reform while the Catharsseparated themselves completely from the Church. The two best-known proto-Reformers, however, are the English theologian and priest John Wycliffe (l. 1330-1384) and the Bohemian priest Jan Hus (l. c. 1369-1415). Wycliffe inspired Hus, whose efforts were the driving force behind the Hussite Wars (1419 to c. 1434) and the Bohemian Reformation (c. 1380 to c. 1436), two of the earliest attempts at reform. Martin Luther would later reference Hus, who was executed in 1415 as a heretic, as a role model for Christians in pursuing a true relationship with God based solely on faith and one’s own interpretation of scripture. Contrary to legend, however, Hus never ‘predicted’ Luther’s activism; this story is a later invention by Luther’s followers.
The Reformation Succeeded because of the Printing Press
… The Reformation succeeded, while earlier efforts at reform had failed, primarily because of the invention of the printing press c. 1440. Wycliffe and Hus made many of the same points later articulated by reformers but lacked the technology to share their views with a wider audience. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses were popularized through print, as were his other writings which were then translated and printed elsewhere, inspiring a wider movement outside of Germany… Translations of the Bible, commentaries on scripture, and attacks on the Catholic Church – as well as by the Church on Protestant sects – were all made possible by mass-produced books and pamphlets. The popularity of these religious works in print contributed to a rise in literacy in Europe, which is an aspect of the Reformation often highlighted.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: reaching out to different cultures, including the physically challenged culture, is an important element of every hospitality ministry. However it’s been my observation that it is usually not done well. This is not because of lack of desire, but because of lack of strategies.
In a new course I’m writing for uDemy, titled Church Guests 101, I delve into how to meet the needs of those that visit our churches. Here is a good insight in this from Chloe Specht.
By Chloe Specht, Sojourners Magazine, 5/16/22.
Do you know the autistic folks in your church? Perhaps you’ve assumed that you don’t know anyone on the autism spectrum, but according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 5 million autistic people in the U.S. — just over 2 percent of the adult population. If this seems like an insignificant portion of the population, consider these similar demographics: The U.S. has around 4.7 million people with doctoral degrees and just under 2 percent of the population has a B negative blood type. Autistic folks are more common than you realize!
Despite the undeniable presence of autistic people like myself, the church often fails to make meaningful efforts to accommodate us. In my experience, congregations tend to project a message that everyone should bypass their own needs and conform to every congregation’s preferences, schedules, and means of access. For example, pastors in my life have told me that I should commit to attending every church function in person, even when my social battery is running dangerously low and I’m nearing burnout. Instead of understanding my need to replenish my energy, I’m told to “put God first” and ignore my body’s signals to rest. This is problematic because conversations around accessibility should center the folks who need it, not further marginalize us.
Autism is a spectrum — a marvelous color wheel of uniquely radiant and vivid expressions! Each autistic person has their own preferences and relationships to the language associated with the autistic community and the larger Disabled community. I identify as Disabled, and I capitalize the word to highlight the solidarity of our community and our ongoing movement to create equity and justice. I also exclusively use identity-first language (i.e., “autistic person” instead of “person with autism”) because autism isn’t something I have; it’s who I am.
For Disabled folks, accessibility is not a matter of convenience; it’s a basic requirement to honor our human dignity. Thus, the church cannot view accessibility as optional. Jesus didn’t treat Disabled folks like an inconvenience. Jesus didn’t warn people suffering with leprosy to keep their distance from him or scold the bleeding woman for touching him; far from it! Jesus drew near to those who wanted him. The church should work to meet the needs of the community just as Jesus did during his life and ministry.
…But how can congregations create accessibility for autistic folks?
Stop asking autistic folks to engage in the church in allistic (i.e., non-autistic) ways.Allowing autistic folks to engage in the life of the community however they feel comfortable and without judgment is the most important thing your church can do…
Learn the language of the autistic community and sit at the feet of autistic educators. In the age of the internet, it’s easy to discover autistic creators online and learn from them…
Make virtual services and events a permanent option at your church. Autistic folks tend to run out of social energy more quickly than allistic folks, which makes it difficult to consistently be present for in-person services and events…
Listen to autistic folks, and always defer to the wisdom of their voices. The church has a lot to learn from autistic Christians, so the community of faith needs to recognize that we are whole, creative, capable people. Keep in mind that these tips offer ways to begin creating accessibility, and you will need to explore the fullness of this work in your congregation’s unique context…
As COVID-19 cases continue to decline and pandemic restrictions are eased across the United States, churches and other houses of worship increasingly are holding services the way they did before the outbreak began, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. But there has not been a corresponding rise over the past six months in the share of Americans who are attending in-person services.
… The same survey shows that attendance at in-person services – which grew steadily from July 2020 through September 2021 – has plateaued, as has the share of adults watching religious services online or on TV.
… The survey’s questions about in-person and virtual attendance can be combined to provide a sense of how many people are watching services online instead of attending in person, and how many are watching online in addition to attending in person. The Center’s survey finds that among all adults who say they typically attend services at least monthly, 36% have both attended in person and watched services digitally in the last month, while three-in-ten (31%) say they have only attended in person but not watched online or on TV in the last month.
One-in-five (21%) may still be substituting virtual attendance for in-person attendance, saying they recently have watched religious services online or on TV but have not attended in person. Just 12% of self-described regular attenders report that they have neither gone in person nor watched services virtually in the last month.
It’s official: Post-pandemic America is incredibly burned out. “According to Google Trends, which since 2004 has collected data on what the world is searching for, queries for ‘burnout’ –from work, life, and school–are at an all-time high in the US,” Quartz recently reported.
… The facts are straightforward: 68% of employees are rethinking what they want from their career.
… The Great Resignation is an opportunity to more aggressively advocate for new working models that enable new talent pools, improve company performance, and encourage people’s well-being.
As we all know, the office model for success has been relatively static since the inception of the knowledge economy post-WWII. Too many companies have abused the model and treated employees as resources to control rather than as people and lives to be optimized. But as we are learning now, the average American daily commute of 56 minutes per day, while perhaps balancing a family or caregiver responsibilities, was not high-motivation strategy.
The American Bible Society today released the first chapter of the 12th annual State of the Bible report, which highlights cultural trends in the U.S. regarding faith and the Bible. Today’s release shows that while overall Bible reading has dramatically decreased over the last year, nearly two-thirds of people who seldom or never read the Bible indicate some curiosity toward Scripture. The first chapter, The Bible in America, is available to download atStateoftheBible.org.
“Our research clearly shows that when people read the Bible and apply its message, it brings them hope and introduces them to full life in Christ. That’s why it’s disheartening to see that millions of Americans have lost interest in the Bible. And millions more are struggling to connect Scripture to their daily lives,” said John Farquhar Plake, PhD and Director of Ministry Intelligence for American Bible Society. “We can’t tell how long this disruption will last, but we know that church leaders and other Bible advocates have a tremendous opportunity to help people in their communities understand and apply Scripture. Now is a critical time to point our neighbors to the good news of hope found in God’s Word.”
… In a recent study detailed in The Wall Street Journal. In fact, they found something quite different: 82% of extroverted workers would prefer a hybrid work model, with 15% actually preferring full-time remote work. Self-described introverts, on the other hand — a whopping 74% of them — said they wanted to be in the office at least part-time.
CEOs and people leaders who are navigating our new normal should see a lesson here, namely that employee preferences aren’t as black and white as management would like.
As one introverted employee, quoted in the article, noted: “At the end of the day, I want to be home by myself, but it doesn’t mean you can’t crave other people’s company.” Indeed, as Myers-Briggs’ head of thought leadership, John Hackston, noted, the takeaway here is that new work models shouldn’t be all or none — or even as highly regulated as some managers would want. The control should land with employees.
“Churches Still Recovering From Pandemic Losses” by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Research, 3/1/22
More than 8 in 10 churches have an attendance of at least half of what it was prior to the pandemic. The average U.S. Protestant church reports attendance at 74% of what it was prior to COVID-19, which means 1 in 4 pre-pandemic churchgoers are still missing from in-person worship services.
“People’s return to in-person worship services has stalled,” said McConnell. “There has been virtually no change in average attendance since August 2021. Some of this is the direct impact of COVID with people getting sick, needing to quarantine or being at high risk. But this also likely includes healthy individuals choosing to not return.”
by Alvin Chang, The UK Guardian Newspaper, 3/21/22.
Nearly six months before Covid-19, the Yale historian Frank Snowden wrote a book about epidemics and pandemics. What he found was that these periods of suffering reshape not just how societies function, but also how humans want to spend their limited time on Earth.
“Epidemic diseases reach into the deepest levels of the human psyche,” he said in 2020. “They pose the ultimate questions about death, about mortality: what is life for? What is our relationship with God?”
Two years and a pandemic later, Snowden said Covid-19 has challenged another set of beliefs: how America is supposed to work.
Before the pandemic, Americans were already working longer hours than people in other developed nations. Perhaps it was in the spirit of the American dream – the idea that if you work hard, this country will make your sacrifices worth it. But mere days into the pandemic, it became harder to hold on to this myth.
Sixty-five percent (251 of 384) of the metro areas within the 50 states and the District of Columbia experienced population increase between 2020 and 2021.
Texas was home to four of the top 10 largest-gaining metro areas.
Sixty-three percent of metro areas had positive net domestic migration. Seeing the largest net domestic migration gains were Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, AZ (66,850), Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX (54,319), and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL (42,089).
Net international migration was positive in 353 (91.9%) of metros.
Having gained 17,133 residents between 2020 and 2021, Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN, crossed the threshold of 2 million residents, for a total population of 2,012,476.
Metro areas with notable numeric population declines between 2020 and 2021 were San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA (-116,385) and Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI (-91,671).
Lake Charles, LA (-5.3%), Odessa, TX (-2.6%) and San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA (-2.5%) had the largest percent decreases in population.
For centuries, Christians have met in sacred places that also provided safety for those seeking asylum, including runaway slaves and undocumented immigrants. But those same sanctuaries where many sing and embrace each other have become anxiety-inducing, and possibly dangerous, for many Americans who are considered higher risk for covid-19.
More than 7 million Americans have weakened immune systems that make them more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus and can make covid-19 more deadly. Many have chosen to stay home. Those who are immunocompromised include people with medical conditions that weaken their immune response, as well as people taking immune-suppressing drugs because of cancer, organ transplants or autoimmune diseases.
As states across the country are lifting covid-19 precautions such as mask mandates and some churches have dropped online services, the immunocompromised are weighing their risk of possible exposure in worship services. And some are finding their fellow parishioners and church leaders aren’t taking measures to protect them.
by Ian Lovett, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2022.
…For eight years, Keith Mudiappa accepted the challenges of serving as pastor at his nondenominational Minneapolis church—the 70-hour workweeks, the low pay, the calls from parishioners at all hours—in exchange for the joy of seeing people come to the faith.
But the rewards of the job were tough to come by during nearly two years of online-only services. Late last year, Mr. Mudiappa quit and moved with his wife and children to Florida. He now works at a bank.