Church History

COVID-19 impacts the Church

Posted May 01, 2024

by Kairos Kobayashi

Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino for Unsplash

COVID-19 changed everything, from people working at home to the way people connect and operate in a rapidly advancing society, according to Forbes. It also affected the Church through the opening of online services, the redefinition of the meaning of being the Church, the lowering number of church attendees and the increase of micro churches.

These changes started when the government announced COVID-19 as a pandemic in March 2020, according to the Library of National Medicine. With mandatory quarantine, many people switched to the Internet to conduct work, play during their free time and remain social, according to Statista.

Many individual churches shifted to platforms like Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts and WebEx, according to ResourceUMC. The article adds that through these digital programs, practices like worship, holding prayer vigils and other programs could continue.

However, some pastors and groups struggled to adapt to the change of utilizing digital technology for their services, according to Texas A&M Today. One pastor had to use duct tape to attach a smartphone to a ladder to live-stream the service, and another used their digital camera since their local church had no resources to switch online.

Photo by Grant Whitty for Unsplash

Other church communities thrived, with many enjoying the ability to attend from the comfort of their homes, according to USA Today. Those who were ill, old, lived far away or never entered a church before found it easier to attend, causing an increase in attendees.

Over three years since the pandemic’s announcement, it officially ended on May 11, 2023, according to the CDC. Some churches were open as early as mid-2021, and by March 2022, 43% of adults who attended religious services reported their local places of worship were open to in-person meetings, according to Pew Research.

The change to online services brought up questions about whether online churches were really churches, according to The Gospel Coalition. Discussions over online churches, including the benefits and disadvantages of digital services, have pushed Christians to question their definition of the Church.

Some Christians believed the Church must meet in person, citing Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 12:27 as proof, according to Adventist News Network. They believed community worked best when Christians were together in the same place and not divided by a computer screen.

Other Christians supported online church service as a tool Christians could utilize to spread the Word of God, according to Altar. Scriptures like Matthew 28:18-20 called upon Christians to spread the ministry to all the world's nations, and the internet could reach almost anyone, anytime, around the Earth.

This debate over online church services continues, according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Photo by Tye Doring for Unsplash

While the Church switched online, it also witnessed a decrease in attendance due to the pandemic, according to Gallup. In 2019, 34% of adults attended church services; however, between 2020 and the present, the percentage dropped to around 31%.

This decrease is related to the number of churches closing down across the country, according to Wheaton College.

The most recent report in 2019 shows 4,500 Protestant churches closed while 3,000 new ones popped up, according to The Guardian. It shows a cultural shift described as Post-Christendom, with the institutional church becoming less influential as a few decades ago, with fewer attendees.

COVID-19 sped up the downward trend of decreasing church numbers, according to Lifeway Research.

Along with the downward trend, there was a simultaneous increase in desiring community and connection, according to Grace Captial Church. As loneliness and isolation increased because of the pandemic, people started to look to various sites like online church services, where they could maintain their connection with others.

One effect of this cultural shift is the emergence of micro churches, according to Outreach Magazine. These small groups allow for closer and more personal connections with others while avoiding hierarchy and institutional leadership.

The number of these churches with 100 or fewer members has increased from 45% to over 65% over the past two decades, according to Faith Communities Today.

Micro churches are not only rising in popularity, but they are also changing the model of the Church, according to Catch Network. Each group can focus specifically on their local community’s needs and provide creative ways to grow the ministry like Greenhouse Church, which raises disciples instead of churches.

The online church services will not be going anywhere, anytime soon, according to Breeze. The embrace of online services, fluctuation of Sunday service attendees and redefining of what it means to be the body of Christ reveal the permanent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to the Internet.

Kairos was born and raised in Hawaii as the son of a pastor. In 2023, he graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Journalism: News & Storytelling. He aims to write insightful, unbiased, and truthful stories on the Body of Christ.