Overall churches have identified and embraced new opportunities for ministry and will emerge from the pandemic stronger than before, according to 85 percent of evangelical leaders in the August Evangelical Leaders Survey. Evangelical leaders also indicated that some churches have struggled to adapt, and some face financial viability issues.
“The coronavirus pandemic has not had an equal impact on the health and ministries of churches across the country. But it’s encouraging to see that evangelical leaders — many of whom lead networks of churches — see the majority of their churches flourishing and blessing their communities through the innovation and entrepreneurship of their leaders,” said Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
Dana Allin, synod executive of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, noted that the denomination has churches in each category, but only 5-10 percent of ECO churches have seen a significant financial impact.
“Many churches have viewed this as a disruption that can be leveraged to catalyze health and positive change. COVID has allowed church leaders to make changes that may not have been as easy if not for this season. Churches that had clarity on mission, vision, values and discipleship markers have had an easier time learning how to adapt and while holding onto the core. It’s been fun to watch,” Allin said.
Ron Hamilton, conference minister of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, said that when COVID-10 hit, some churches were already prepared for online services and giving, but others that were initially scrambling caught up and learned how to serve members remotely. “Many churches have learned things that will help them increase the effectiveness of their ministry. Sadly, unhealthy struggling churches have failed to keep up and may not survive the effect of the pandemic,” he said.
The NAE’s State of the Plate survey of over 1,000 churches in late August revealed almost two-thirds of churches (64 percent) report giving is steady or has increased. When the same State of the Plate question was asked in April, 65 percent of churches reported a drop in giving as COVID-19 hit.
But Randall Bach, president of Open Bible Churches, argued that the greatest tests of the coronavirus have not been the financial challenges or limitations or absence of in-person meetings. “The greatest toll, which is mounting, is on pastors who are doing their best to navigate unknowns and maintain congregations’ identities, connections and ministries. The leadership load on pastors is immense. They are valiantly doing their best, adapting to massive forced change, and working harder than ever to do so,” Bach said.
The NAE encourages churches to participate in Bless Your Pastor, a campaign designed to equip churches to encourage their pastors. As part of the campaign, churches that distribute a list of 50 Creative Ways to Bless Your Pastor and take up an appreciation offering will receive a $250 gift card for their senior pastor from the NAE, provided through a generous grant.
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.