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Many churches unprepared to take services online, study shows

With a new warning from the CDC against mass gatherings or events of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks, many churches are unprepared to provide online alternatives amid the new coronavirus pandemic, a recent study shows.

“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals,” the CDC said Sunday in their announcement about gatherings including church services.

“Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States,” the CDC added.

The CDC encouraged event organizers to shift to virtual meetings when possible to help protect vulnerable populations such as older adults and those with compromised immune systems. Many churches have been responding by moving church services online.

Research from the Nashville-based LifeWay Research conducted last fall found that just 22% of pastors livestream their entire service while about 10% livestream their sermon only. Some 41% of pastors admitted that they don't post any portion of their church service online, while about 52% say they post the sermon online after the church service is complete.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a release to The Christian Post that churches with weekly attendance of more than 250, tend to be most prepared to offer services online but they are in the minority.

“If they need to, almost a third of churches can gather virtually this week using technology and processes they already have in place,” McConnell said.

“Half of churchgoers have recent experience livestreaming a church service. And churches impacted first by CDC’s COVID-19 mitigation guidelines—those with attendance above 250—are most prepared to provide their service online,” he said.

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research says a majority of America’s churches, nearly 60%, attract weekly attendance of 99 or less.

In “State of the Online Church” research published in 2019 by Vanderbloemen, Pushpay, and Jay Kranda, it was highlighted that while a majority of churches had been wary of using online platforms for ministry many of them were slowly including it as a part of their church’s overall ministry, but it appears this shift hasn’t been moving fast enough.

Read Also:LifeWay creates online Sunday school alternative for kids as churches respond to coronavirus

“There wasn’t any real study that existed," Kranda, pastor of the online campus of Saddleback Church in California, told CP about why he felt the study was necessary.

"There was a lot of opinion on online ministry. There wasn’t any type of data around really showing what has been happening. And online streaming, particularly at a scale, has really matured. And things like the Church Online platform was over 10 years old. Facebook streaming has really matured. It’s been around three to four years,” he said.

“I felt like there was enough data there to go, hey, have we learned anything from this? Is it working or not? When I started as an online pastor, really there were a lot of opinions. I really wanted to move from opinion to have some facts. Is this hurting churches? Is it helping churches? And because I have been in online ministry for just about 10 years, I knew all those opinions,” he said.

What the study really shows, he said, is that “churches, they know online is the front door now.”

And for the next eight weeks, online worship is all most churches will be able to have.

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