Research conducted over the past weeks by The Barna Group shows that numbers from "virtual" church attendance has risen compared to numbers from a typical Sunday in-person worship services, that in this current health situation, has been discouraged or (in some cases) banned.
Between March 20 and April 6, the Barna Group conducted a surveyed with more than 600 Protestant senior pastors in America who serve on Barna's Church Panel. According to the survey, more than 51 percent of pastors answered that virtual attendance has actually been greater than the typical physical Sunday gathering
"This could be influenced by a few factors," Barna Group commented. "Such as Americans' longing for spiritual guidance in a crisis, the accessibility of digital service options, the fact that online attendance is now more concentrated-or, perhaps, that churches' online efforts are proving welcome and effective."
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the group's last year's research had found "Worship shifting", the tendency of churches to rely on digital spiritual tools such as podcast, streamed sermons, radio etc. The data showed that 22 percent of practicing Christians-and 52 percent of practicing Christian Millennials-say they replace traditional church in this way regularly, at least half the time.
"As social distancing has gone into effect to quell the spread of COVID-19, digital disruption has affected faith communities on an unprecedented scale," said Barna.
In the research titled, "The Uncertain Digital & Physical Realities of Churches", Barna group stressed the need of an understanding of church buildings and look toward the future of worship spaces.
"Well before COVID-19 reached pandemic levels and introduced risk for religious gatherings, physical worship spaces have been facing other challenges," the researcher shared. "Some pastors find themselves either fighting off developers aiming to convert dying churches into high-priced residences or fighting against lagging attendance numbers that can't sustain the financial needs of their house of worship."
Meanwhile, Barna's weekly national surveys of pastors also have pointed out many ministries were not completely ready for this greatest transition away from the physical worship pulpit. A quarter of U.S. pastors (26%) surveyed during March 20-23, shortly after social distancing began, said their greatest priority for their church was putting in place technology solutions for streaming services or online service format. In data collected between April 7-13, the research found that nearly half of pastors(47%) don't expect to be back in their buildings until May, with another 35 percent holding out hope for June-though 43 percent assume the circumstances surrounding the pandemic could still worsen (9% much worse, 34% a little worse).