Whether it is businesses, schools or churches, there has been a dramatic change in the way we live since the coronavirus pandemic affected the whole world. During the past several months the 'new normal' has involved working from home, schooling and online church worship. This 'new normal' still looks to become a long-term trend, even beyond 2020 and as such, innovative solutions such as video conferencing and livestreaming have become the go-to sources for business meetings, school lessons and church services.
In light of this, the British Union Conference (BUC) Communication Department was interested in understanding how local churches conducted their online church services during the time of the lockdown. Using an online self-administered, semi-anonymous questionnaire survey, powered by SurveyMonkey, a 10-item questionnaire was sent electronically to all first Elders of the churches in the BUC territory to gather the scope, practice and impact of online church.
The selected results are presented below.
Over half of all churches (55%) were led by the local head elder during the period of the survey. Of the remaining churches, 30% retained their local Pastor and 15% had an entirely new area Pastor or Coordinator. These findings mirror the placement of the pastoral staff on the government’s furlough scheme as part of the job retention scheme. Since those staff on furlough were not allowed to do their normal work, the pastors who remained at work during this time suddenly had more churches to supervise within a wider geographical location. It is worth noting that the local head elders formed the main leadership arm of our churches, with their willingness to mix their church responsibilities and their usual employment commitments. The pastors who continued to work took on more supervisory duties.
The commonest form of online worship was video conferencing solutions (76%) and the preferred platform for the majority of the churches using video conferencing solutions was Zoom (92%), while 8% used either Skype, Google Meet or GoToMeeting. A smaller proportion of the churches (8%) used livestreaming either on Facebook or YouTube as their preferred method of virtual worship. These were churches who already had an established online livestreaming platform presence.
More than 80% of the churches surveyed were able to consistently deliver online Sabbath School, Divine Service, AYS/Bible Study and Children’s programmes on a weekly basis while half (50%) consistently delivered Friday or Sabbath Vespers Service.The results show that most churches surveyed delivered online services a weekly basis.
The Communications Dept. wanted to analyse the difference between church attendance prior to church closure to that of members attending service online during lockdown. The results were very encouraging with a surprising slightly higher attendance for services such as Youth programmes and vespers. Whist sabbath school and divine services almost maintained regular consistent attendance. These programmes were also specifically mentioned as events that would continue after churches reopen.
Having seen the effectiveness of online services the survey shows the intent of church leaders (Pastors and Elders) to maintain an online presence when churches reopen.
From this survey, we have learnt that church leaders had a steep learning curve in the transfer of the church services from face-to-face meetings to online services. Similarly, choosing the right streaming platform for any particular congregation may have proved to be difficult, especially in what seemed like uncharted territory. However, these changes were embraced as leaders became acquainted with the delivery of fulfilling online church services to meet the members’ spiritual needs.
The greatest benefit has been high attendances in services such as Prayer and Bible Study meetings, which would otherwise have attracted fewer members if it were face-to-face. Some churches managed to conduct Revelation seminars during this period, another great success story.
In summary, this survey highlighted the scope and practice of online worship services in the BUC territory at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact on local congregations.
The greatest benefit identified has been the increased participation at Prayer and Bible study meetings, providing an ideal solution when churches reopen post-pandemic. The church’s first and foremost response to the changing world needs to be innovative and progressive by embracing change, not just doing business as usual.
We would now like to hear from members of their own experiences of online church and a separate survey is presently being conducted which you can participate here.