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How the pandemic has affected U.S. churches: A survey of 1,400 church leaders


Bryan R. Smith | AFP

J-P Mauro - published on 10/23/20

A new survey highlights troubles brought on by the pandemic, as well as some promising opportunities.

As America continues to grapple with the world pandemic, a new survey has highlighted the biggest challenges facing local churches during this prolonged time of isolation and social distance. Conducted by Ministry Brands — the leading provider of software, services, and information platforms for churches, ministries, and those they serve — the survey questioned 1,400 church leaders about the financial impact of the world pandemic on local parishes, as well as its affect on parish activities, both in-person and digital.

One of the largest worries for Catholic leaders is the pandemic’s impact on Church finances, with 67% of Catholic respondents expressing concerns about reduced giving. As the pews remain mostly empty, so too do the collection baskets, which has led many parishes to explore methods of digital donation. Parishes that already had such online giving options developed before the pandemic have seen great success, but those who are just taking up the practice responded that they are finding it hard to coordinate with their parishioners to donate online.

The survey encouragingly noted that 85% of respondents said they have not been forced to reduce their staff or cancel technological services, despite reporting reduced income. Such technological implements, such as online services, were viewed as important engagement tools; however, 85% of Catholic churches say that in-person Mass is vital as well. This sentiment is reflected in the number of Catholic parishes that offer online-only worship formats — only 1% of Catholic churches in America.

The use of social media and mass communications, such as text message alerts, is also on the rise. As many as 80% of respondents cited Facebook and similar platforms as providing significant outlets for building engagement, with email and newsletters coming in at a close second, with 75%.

Ministry Brands reported that the survey found one area in particular with immense opportunity for growth: the use of apps. While only 23% of responding Church leaders said they utilize apps, those who do found it an invaluable tool for engaging their parishioners.

In a press release announcing this new survey, Pat O’Donnell, Managing Director of Ministry Brands, said of their findings:

“This new research shows that church leaders remain understandably concerned about the financial and operational impact of COVID-19.
But we’re also seeing parishes rise to the challenge by maintaining services in line with local restrictions and increasing digital communications.

Ministry Brands has accumulated their data into an easy to read graphic, which can be found here.

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