GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & More houses of worship are returning to normal operations, but in-person attendance is unchanged since fall. #PewResearch

by Justin Nortey, 3/25/22.

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.

A line graph showing that the share of churches and other houses of worship operating as they did pre-pandemic continues to rise

… 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.

A bar chart showing that roughly one-in-five Americans who typically attend services monthly have participated virtually but not in person in the last month

Read more at … https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/22/more-houses-of-worship-are-returning-to-normal-operations-but-in-person-attendance-is-unchanged-since-fall/?

GROWING THE POST-PANDEMIC CHURCH & #SundayChurchHacks: As a staff, review together the previous weekend’s streamed service. When all leaders are involved, corrections can be made quickly. Remember, missteps can inadvertently give online attendees a sense of being overlooked, if not second-class.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: As part of most consultations I analyze the online and onsite services. I then provide a confidential report to the senior leader or executive leadership team. On many occasions I find that online services have become an afterthought, inadvertently giving online attendees a less than fulfilling experience.

Solution:

Each week as a staff, review the previous weekend’s streamed service. Often churches use videos to augment the sermon and worship. Unfortunately, many times the videos are not viewable online. This inadvertently gives online attendees a sense of being overlooked, if not second-class. Such missteps can easily be overcome by a weekly staff review of the streamed service. And if all leaders are involved in the review, corrections can be made quickly.

For more Sunday Church Hacks:

eREFORMATION & Newly Planted Church Uses Streaming to Grow From a Dozen Members to Over 1,000 in a year.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: One case study, which included the newly planted Redeemer Church in Madison, Georgia describes how this church grew in one year from only dozens of attendees to over 1,000 in attendance.

Will Live Streaming Cause My Church To Grow? A Case Study

by Duke Taber, CTS, 7/26/21.

CHURCH #1: THE “START-UP”

Redeemer Church in Madison, Georgia, is a congregation that was recently planted with a small group of believers just a few years ago. Their growth has been quite rapid and dramatic, and their Creative Arts Director Justin Kennedy credits live video streaming as one of the primary catalysts of their increase in size. Justin shared,

BoxCast [streaming] has taken our small church of 7 people in a driveway and helped it grow to one of the fastest-growing churches in the southeast with over 1,100 in attendance.

Justin Kennedy

What is it about streaming, specifically, that has helped Redeemer grow? Justin explains,

It has also made it easy for people to get a feel for what we are about and remove the fear of trying a new church.

Justin Kennedy

The concept of fear when it comes to visiting a new church is one that is quite common, yet it is rarely spoken about in theological journals and church staff meetings, in my experience. What’s exciting, however, is the thought that something like embedded video on a ministries website can help prospective visitors feel more comfortable about attending when compared to merely reading about a church online. The live video certainly is a powerful medium, and many churches who stream would likely agree with Justin’s conclusions about how streaming can foster growth in church assimilation efforts.

DIVING INTO REDEEMER’S STREAMING DATA

[Streaming] has helped us to grow from a few dozen to over 1,000 in just one year while expanding our viewership to over 17 countries.

John Darsey, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Madison

When speaking on the subject of church growth, it is important to always remember that church growth can be achieved in ways that differ from Sunday morning in-person worship attendance. Church growth can also be measured by the online reach that can span from neighboring cities to countries an ocean away.

Madison, Georgia has a population of just under 4,000 people. Since adding streaming, however, Redeemer has been able to grow the reach of their church outside of their little town to surrounding states and countries. In-depth viewer maps, such as the one pictured above, shows the wide geographical impact that a small town church plant can have in our world today through a tool such as streaming.

A FINAL WORD FROM REDEEMER

With one small device and five minutes of installation, your church can reach out literally across the globe. I cannot say enough about how BoxCast has blessed our church… BoxCast is the easiest thing we do!

John Darsey

Even if streaming could help your church grow, it should only be implemented if it makes sense financially and operationally. Redeemer’s testimony is helpful here, showing that though their church started with a small budget with a handful of folks in a driveway, investing in live video streaming was a worthwhile cost and time investment for them. If your ministry is of a similar size with similar growth goals, perhaps streaming is something that your congregation should thoughtfully consider.

Read more at … https://churchtechnologysuperstore.com/will-live-streaming-cause-my-church-to-grow-a-case-study

The #Post-PandemicChurch & Scientists Confirm the Power of In-Person Gatherings.

By Mya Jaradat, 7/18/21, Deseret News.

… However, now that it’s safe for many Americans to return to in-person worship, some religion experts are questioning why virtual church enthusiasts want to remain online. Online worship can be gratifying, but, both spiritually and sociologically, it often leaves something to be desired, said Dr. Andrew Newberg, a physician and neuroscientist who studies religious experiences.

“From what we know in general about how the brain works there is a kind of resonance that occurs when we’re with other people,” said Newberg, a pioneer in neurotheology. “The brain is designed to be social.”

Newberg pointed to the power of sacred architecture to illustrate his point. “If you walk into the Vatican — I don’t care what religion (you are) — when you walk into the Vatican, it’s hard not to feel something because of its grandeur,” he said. 

Even smaller houses of worship create a sense of awe, he added, noting that vaulted ceilings contribute to a feeling of “spacelessness” in the brain — a sensation that might help us feel a little less connected to our earthly concerns and more connected to the people around us and God. 

Seeing the Vatican through a screen, Newberg added, doesn’t pack the same neurological punch, in part because other sensory cues, like smell, are missing. Online worship, no matter how well it’s done, likely can’t affect us as deeply as in-person church does, he said. 

Dr. Harold Koenig, a psychiatrist and the director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, said that while researchers still don’t know exactly what accounts for the potency of in-person, group worship — “the research is a little behind there,” he said — it probably activates circuitry in the brain’s reward pathway. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine are likely involved, he said.

Research has also shown that being with a group — particularly when that group is engaged in some sort of activity that makes a positive contribution to society, like volunteering — leads to physiological changes that create a feeling of warmth. The metaphorical warmth that stems from being with others “has a physiological basis,” Koenig said.

Prior to COVID-19, almost all in-person services incorporated some element of touch, as well, which also creates a sense of well-being, he added.

“As a psychiatrist, even though we’ve got COVID-19, I always touch (my patients) when they leave the room. That physical touch is critical,” Koenig said.

In general, face-to-face interactions and group activities, including worship, create “collective effervescence,” wrote Adam Grant recently in The New York Times, using a coin termed by the famed French sociologist Émile Durkheim. Take the collective out — or put it behind a screen — and the experience is flattened.

However, Newberg noted that religious believers who live in isolation, like some monks and nuns, certainly do have religious experiences. So while the in-person, group aspect of worship is important, it’s not essential. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a religious experience.

Similarly, Teresa Berger, a professor of liturgical studies and Catholic theology at Yale Divinity School, said just because someone comes to an in-person worship service doesn’t mean they’re mentally engaged.

“Some of them, quite honestly, in their minds are going to be elsewhere,” she said.

Theologically speaking, Berger added, “The decisive element is a community gathered — and I don’t mean gathered only physically but gathered in a multitude of ways, some of them could be digitally mediated — around seeking to encounter a divine presence.”

Read more at … https://www.deseret.com/faith/2021/7/18/22575707/are-churches-done-with-buildings-online-virtual-worship-congregations-covid-19-pandemic

COMMUNICATION & Today’s #SundayChurchHacks: When you’ve been away (but still watching online) don’t say ‘It is good to be back’ from the stage when you return in person. It makes the online congregation feel second class. Instead say, “It is good to be with you again this week.”

Read about innovative strategies in Growing the Post-pandemic Church.

REMOTE LEADERSHIP & 3 Ways to Lead Through Crisis at a Distance.

by Matt Garratt, Entrepreneur Magazine, 2/4/21.

…I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with CEOs about how they’re leading through this period of intense change. I hope that by sharing some of their best practices and advice, it can help you answer some critical questions.

Their top three pieces of advice: Show empathy and support, listen and make an effort to build community. 

1. Show empathy and support employees in the home office and at home

Making day-to-day life easier for your employees while supporting their families shows you care about more than just what they can do for you, and it also means you can contribute to improvements in their mental health, morale and productivity…

2. Prioritize communication — even more than usual — and listen more

The most effective leaders foster an environment of open communication, including providing forums for direct conversations about difficult topics. “Opportunities to be heard and provide feedback are the best ways we’ve been able to maintain morale,” Gainsight’s Mehta says. “When teammates know they can be heard from different areas of the company, they know they are supported…

3. Reinforce company values through community

Creating and sustaining genuine connections between employees is vital to employee health, satisfaction and performance — especially when everyone is physically far apart and spontaneous conversations are so hard to come by.

Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere, has been able to stay in touch with how the employees are feeling through “pulse” surveys. Shukla says the most important initiative has been an online gathering called “TenForward Lounge,” a digital event space where employees can engage in conversations via moderators and share their thoughts and feelings. “It’s also an opportunity to reinforce company values,” Shukla says.

Read more at … https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/363949?utm_source=flipboard&utm_medium=related&utm_campaign=syndication

eReformation & Here is how an associate pastor is effectively ministering to a Boston congregation from her home, 3000 miles away in California.

By Paul Leighton, 11/18/20, The Salem News.

… The First Baptist Church in Beverly (MA) has hired a new minister from California. And it won’t have to pay her moving costs.

The Rev. Jaimie Crumley has been hired as a “virtual minister.” Since coming on board, she’s been preaching at online Sunday services and meeting with church members via Zoom without leaving her home in Inglewood, California.

“It is definitely unusual, especially living all the way across the country,” Crumley said. “It’s not like I run into people in the grocery store.”

Like many churches, the First Baptist Church has been holding services on-line during the pandemic. The Rev. Julie Flowers, one of the First Baptist’s two senior ministers, said virtual ministry is likely to continue in some form or another even after it is safe to resume in-person services. So when it came time to hire an associate minister, they decided to make it a full-time virtual position.

“It opened up possibilities that in-person ministry doesn’t,” Flowers said. “We posted it saying this candidate could live anywhere as long as they could work on the Eastern time zone. We got candidates from all over the country.”

Flowers said Crumley, 30, was a great candidate because of her “dexterity in the virtual space,” including experience with podcasting.

…Crumley grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and is now working on her PhD in the department of gender studies at UCLA. She’s a graduate of Wellesley College and Yale Divinity School, where she was awarded the Mersick Prize for effective public address.

Crumley said she is trying to create as many “touchstones” as possible to get to know First Baptist Church members. She has chatted with people on Zoom coffee hours after Sunday services and hosted a virtual blessing of the animal services. She’s planning to do a weekly podcast based on the church’s theme for the year, “The Journey is Our Home.”

Read more at … https://www.salemnews.com/news/local_news/virtual-minister-preaches-from-afar/article_f4dc3824-59a9-5513-9c38-28d8e2f4afc6.html

HUMOR & Young Person Is Clueless About How People Lived Before E-Mail, And His Texts With An Older Person Go Viral

by Mindaugas Balčiauskas and
Rokas Laurinavičius , BoredPanda, 10/7/20.

Kathy Torrence, 52, learned that her son, 21, is no different. Recently, he texted Kathy, asking, “How did any of college work before email?”

Read more at … https://www.boredpanda.com/college-life-before-internet-email-son-mom-exchange-kathy-torrence/

#SundayChurchHacks – Continue to improve online worship after onsite worship returns. Some people may never be able to join you onsite (or choose not to).

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 5/2020.

We are entering “age of the eReformation,” an electronic re-formation of the way the Church shares the Good News.

Yet I have noticed that some churches regard online worship as a “stop-gap” measure required by a pandemic that prevents face-to-face encounter.  But, as I noted in a recent article titled, St. Paul’s guide to leading remotely, Paul faced similar challenges of guiding and discipling the far-flung churches he led.

So, use this time of forced online worship as an opportunity to begin to offer both onsite and online worship that is anointed, powerful and life-changing.

Read the entire article by clicking on this title below:

Screen Shot 2020-05-31 at 11.29.04 AM

For more ideas see another article I wrote for Biblical Leadership Magazine

eReformation: Leading post-pandemic church growth – 10 things to start doing now