COVID-19 research reveals innovation within PC(USA) churches

Leaders notice a hunger for spirituality during the crisis

by Melody K. Smith | Presbyterian News Service

A new report from the PC(USA)’s Research Services describes the challenges that worshiping communities face and the new ideas springing forth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

LOUISVILLE — While congregations and new worshiping communities are facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also innovating by learning new technologies, starting new missions and finding new ways to be the Church while social distancing. A new report from PC(USA) Research Services describes some of the challenges that worshiping communities are facing and provides a peek at the new things that are springing forth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a hardship on many worshiping communities. Some are struggling just to survive. “However, this has not stopped many congregations and new worshiping communities from reaching out to others,” said Dr. Angie Andriot, research analyst with Research Services of the PC(USA). “In fact, despite the fear and despair that is echoed by many church leaders in the face of this pandemic, the overwhelming response to this despair has been one of faith and hope.”

As a leader of one new worshiping community explains, “I have learned that an emphasis on gratitude, finding ways to laugh and physical exertion (working out, long walks or bike rides, etc.) are essential to keep my ‘tank full.’”

Congregations are doing many things to respond to local virus-related needs with the most common being praying for health care workers and increasing food ministries. One church leader said that their congregation began a pen pal program connecting available members with members isolated due to age, mobility or illness.

The ideas go from paper to technology as another leader said there has been “an awakening in the congregation that use of technology could be a really meaningful tool to include homebound members. The huge grin on the face of a 90-plus-year-old member when he logs in from assisted living and gets to worship with his church family for the first time in months has been deeply heartwarming.”

Leaders are also turning to local news: 84% report that they get their information on COVID-19 from local news media. This is consistent with outside research indicating that people are increasingly turning to local sources — in both news and government — for their information during this time. Among the other sources listed, the most common are:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations (37%)
  • Government sources (23%)
  • PC(USA) organizations (19%)
  • Public media (5%)
  • Fox News (2%)

Worshiping community leaders are also doing what they can during this pandemic to help their communities survive. Leaders report more communication and deeper connections as some positive changes they have seen in their worshiping communities during this time of crisis. This includes checking in on one another more frequently, helping in the community, sharing resources, showing unity and supporting one another, and growing or starting an internet presence.

“As we live through the pandemic, the Church will never be the same. Some congregations will close or merge. For others, the pandemic has forced them to rethink how to conduct ministry, sustain and renew fellowship, and share the gospel,” said Dr.  Susan Barnett, director of Research Services.

A new report from Research Services finds worshipers hunger for more spirituality in their lives. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

One especially positive result is a renewed focus on God. Leaders are noticing an increased “hunger for the Word” and for more spirituality among their worshipers. This has resulted in an increased number of people the Word is reaching. As one leader said, “Practicing the sacrament of Communion around our own tables as we sit to dinner together, but virtually, seems to be a really good way of introducing the sacrament in a way that is different from what we’ve ever done before, while reminding us that many of the first generations of followers of the Way sat at table with their families, in their homes, taking the sacrament together during dinner.”


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