To re-open or not to re-open during the coronavirus pandemic has become a “pressure point” for many churches, a new poll shows.
The survey by Lifeway Research asked 443 Protestant pastors in the US what they see as the greatest challenges for their churches at the moment.
Over a quarter of the pastors (27%) said “maintaining unity/conflict/complaints” was the pressure point they were “feeling the most”.
This was followed by frustrations over their ability to offer pastoral care from a distance (17%) and concerns about the safety of parishioners (13%).
Nearly one in ten (9%) felt pressure around planning for a return to collective worship.
A similar proportion (8%) were anxious about church finances, with over a third (34%) saying offerings were down on the same period in 2019. Thirteen per cent of these churches reported a decrease of 50% or more.
Comments from the pastors revealed divisions over whether churches should re-open in violation of public health orders, or stay closed.
One pastor said that half of his church was opposed to re-opening, while the other half wanted in-person worship to resume. Another pastor said his parishioners wanted the church to re-open in defiance of Covid restrictions.
Other pastors reported that no matter what course of action they took, they were being told by some that the church was not doing enough and by others that it was doing “too much”.
The survey also dug into the impact of the pandemic on parishioners, with three-quarters (74%) saying a church member’s income had been affected by reduced hours at work.
Nearly half (48%) said at least one church member had lost their job because of Covid-19.
Over a quarter (28%) said a church member had contracted coronavirus. Five percent had a parishioner who died from coronavirus.
Nearly all pastors (94%) said their churches “provided hand sanitizer, masks, or gloves to those needing it,” but only around a third (35%) said they were requiring congregants to wear masks.