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Challenges and Opportunities By Mark Dreistadt

CHALLENGES ALWAYS PRESENT NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Highlighting challenges and opportunities, Infinity Concepts recently released a new research report: The Ripple Effect: Congregations, COVID, and the Future of Church Life. This report is the result of a research study conducted by Infinity Concepts and Grey Matter Research which included over 1000 American evangelical Protestants and examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on church attendance and attitudes about the experience.

We looked at how people view online church attendance and the impact this will have on the future.

This report provides a number of insights into people’s church experience during the pandemic. Here are a few statistics from our report:

  • 89% of evangelical Protestants stopped attending in-person church during the pandemic. Many did not attend because churches were closed, while others chose not to attend.
  • 78% of evangelical Protestants substituted online services for in-person attendance. That’s over 46 million adults who watched church services online.
  • 22% of those surveyed who were not attending church prior to the pandemic said they started watching church online. That represents 3% of all evangelical Protestants or about 1.7 million adults.
  • 32% watched services from a church other than their own. About 18 million people explored at least one church online other than their own during the pandemic.
  • 40% of those watching financially supported a church other than their own.

One statistic that really stands out to me from this study is that a surprisingly large number of evangelicals do not necessarily see superior advantages to attending in-person services. We found that 45% of those who experienced online church services now believe that worship online is equal or superior to the in-person experience in at least one of the eight areas we explored.

Only 18% believe attending church in person is superior in every way to viewing a service online. That leaves 82% of all evangelicals who experienced online church during the pandemic feeling the online option is equal to or better than the in-person experience in at least one of the eight areas we tested.

This report certainly raises concerns about in-person church attendance in the future, but it also reveals new opportunities for online evangelism and discipleship.

Only 44% of evangelical Protestants who experienced online church during the pandemic want to return exclusively to in-person worship once the pandemic is over. Stated another way, 56% want to keep their options open for the future …

  • 36% who want to return primarily to in-person church but with occasional online use
  • 9% who plan to use online and in person about equally
  • 7% who want to watch church online primarily and attend in person occasionally
  • 2% who want to stick with online exclusively

These four categories represent 21 million evangelical Protestant adults who plan to include online church in their future. Keep in mind that among these 21 million evangelical Protestant adults are 6.3 million who have children under age 18 in their household, so the number is even larger.

This presents a great opportunity for forward-looking churches.

The number of people who can be reached through online ministry far exceeds in-person potential of most churches. Almost 7 million evangelical Protestant adults already plan for online church to become equal to or more frequent than attending in person. However, this new mission field should not be approached without adequate prayer and preparation.

A worship service viewed online or on television does not have the same dynamics as an in-person worship service. Simple challenges like weak audio, poor lighting, dead airtime, or in-person activities like offering and communion can cause viewers to change the channel. This requires two levels of planning … the live worship experience and the virtual worship experience. Both are important. Both require thoughtful planning.

Several churches we work with have established online campuses for their church with an online pastor and support team.

Once you have developed an online worship experience and/or online campus program that flows seamlessly to the viewers, then it is time to promote this exciting outreach ministry. Social media is the best and most cost-effective tool to use.

No one knows what the future will hold, but we are certain that technology represents a growing part of our culture. We encourage you to embrace the future and use every means possible to share the gospel with your community locally and online.

To receive a free copy of the full research report, click here.

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Mark Dreistadt is the CEO/President of Infinity Concepts. He is one of America’s leading experts in branding, marketing, and communication, specializing in effectively engaging the Christian community.


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