Impact of COVID-19 on Presbyterian Church (USA) Congregations
In late May, the Presbyterian Church (USA) released a report titled “COVID-19: Presbyteries, Congregations & New Worshiping Communities Respond to the Pandemic“. The report is based on surveys of three populations: Mid-Council Leaders, Congregations, and New Worshiping Communities. For the sake of this summary, we will focus on the 1,102 responses they received from congregational representatives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a hardship on many worshiping communities. Some are struggling just to survive. However, this has not stopped many PC(USA) congregations from reaching out to others by starting new missions and learning new technologies.
Survey responses indicate that attendance is up for the larger PC(USA) congregations. Since the pandemic, attendance has dropped for churches with 26-100 average worshipers, but has increased for those with over 100 typically in attendance. This indicates that more visitors are flocking to larger churches for online worship. It is also consistent with reports from pastors of small churches, in which many are encouraging their worshipers to visit other services.
97% of PC(USA) congregations report doing church strictly online now. Of those who have moved to strictly online worship, just over half (53%) indicated that they are using a different format than in-person gatherings. In other words, they are not trying to take the “normal” church experience and simply move it online. While some are implementing small changes, others are taking this opportunity to try new and innovative ideas. For instance:
“A nearby church which shares a pastor with another nearby church has invited our parish of six small churches without a pastor to join in their online worship services.”
“A Pen Pal program connecting available members with members isolated due to age, mobility or illness.”
“Daily Facebook feeds reach people we don’t see on Sundays because of work schedules, and these will continue!”
“We decided to make [home communion] a weekly thing which we normally don’t do in person. It was important for us to be able to share the sacrament together.”
90% of PC(USA) congregations report that giving has decreased since the outbreak. Only 2% of congregations report an increase in giving and, at the opposite end, 13% of congregations report that giving has essentially stopped. Despite a drop in giving, most feel that they will be able to manage with little to no reduction in expenses. A smaller percentage (10%) fear they may have to make significant budget cuts in order to survive and 7% are worried the financial hardship may be more than their church can bear.
In response to virus-related needs, PC(USA) congregations are stepping up in their communities. 33% report having begun a time of prayer for healthcare workers, 32% expanded existing food distribution programs, and 27% have sewn face masks.
60% of PC(USA) congregational leaders reported technology as the biggest obstacle to creating successful online gatherings. Other notable obstacles to gathering online include creating engaging interaction (35%), quality of sound (33%), preaching and/or singing to an empty room (28%), and convening people to join for the live stream (20%).
For a more comprehensive look at the findings of this study, please visit the link below.
Please direct questions to:
Susan Barnett, PhD, Director, Research Services, Presbyterian Church (USA)