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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart


Before I get back to our discussion about dragons, let's talk a moment about “worship-shifting." 

I saw an article in a newspaper recently about this**, titled COVID pandemic will kill many churches. In it, Terry Mattingly said: 

    "But how, pray tell, can clergy embrace 'worship-shifting'?"

    And a moment later he says, "But many worshippers have welcomed online worship."

The title of the article is overly sensational.  While the pandemic may well influence some church demise, the research this article was based upon also says that "worship-shifting" results in a lot more people tuning into church than we've had coming through our actual doors in ages. And that this will likely continue.

There are a few things that I want to point out.

  • The pandemic will have (and has had) a negative impact on physical presence in church buildings, and on givings in some cases.

  • The pandemic means that clergy are faced with additional challenges - much like other leaders in other industries during this pandemic.

  • I take issue with Mattingly's phrase, "But how, pray tell, can clergy embrace 'worship-shifting'?". It doesn't matter whether they embrace it or not. Leadership, both lay and ordained, have done a remarkable job of adapting to worship-shifting, pleasant or not. In fact, every congregation I know is moving forward with both online and in-person worship, education, and much else. Why?  Because that’s where the people and interest are. 

  • Simultaneously, according to Mattingly’s cited research, one-third of habitual churchgoers have significantly reduced their attendance at any service. That means the decline we've experienced for decades continues.

 What does this mean for you? 

  • Church in bunny-slippers will likely remain if you so desire. This is more of a challenge for denominations who cannot celebrate communion online, but those denominations are doing their best.

  • Congregations who have a hard time affording childcare during programming can provide online opportunities for young families. This is definitely a win-win. 

  • Likewise, weekday services and events may continue during regular working hours, but have online access for those who work. People in the workforce, and most of the "younger people" churches want to reach are employed, may be able to take a half-hour break or an early lunch to tune into offerings that previously were unavailable to them. Another win-win, with a dash of potential evangelism in the workforce thrown in. ("Show, don’t tell," works in evangelism as well as novels!)

  • In-person gatherings will be far more intimate and potentially meaningful for those who are physically present with each other - if done well. 

How do we do it well? 

  • Keep the online doors open, no matter what the physical doors are doing. Expand and improve your online presence. 

  • Lay people - continue to volunteer to take some of the burdens off of the clergy. There is so much we can do that does not require ordination. Or outsource tasks to people looking for internships or jobs - depending on your ability to pay, of course. 

  • Rearrange your physical gatherings to ensure there is both physically distancing but also physical intimacy. Don't spread 15 people out in a sanctuary that seats 200. Use the intimacy of small gatherings, safely, to our advantage. This is truly a gift of smaller churches and one that is sought out by parishioners. Not everyone gets what they need from a mega-church auditorium. 

  • Do not, whatever you do, stop any of this even if your church building must close. The unfortunate title, "COVID pandemic will kill many churches," only means church buildings. It might also mean drastic reductions in clergy presence. It does NOT mean your church will close or be "killed." Grow+Small Church Consulting is here to make sure it doesn't. 

So relax, refocus, and get to work. The news of our death is greatly exaggerated. 

What is your take on research and reporting after six months of the pandemic? What hopes and joys do you see in the next six months? 


** Research Reference Disclaimer: I have not researched these researchers, am not aware of their biases or validity of their research methods, and cannot claim the accuracy of any of their data or conclusions.  

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