Church-switching spreads with pandemic

The Covid pandemic has “accelerated people’s comings and goings and has required new strategies to welcome and assimilate new members into the church community,” writes Melissa Morgan Kelley in Christianity Today (January 18). Along with other life changes wrought by Covid, for “those who were already struggling with their church, the pandemic served as a catalyst to begin exploring other congregations.” It is, however, difficult to isolate the pandemic as a cause of the new religious mobility, since it may also have been shaped by the polarization and social and political turmoil of the last two years. Kelley adds that “pastors have felt ill-equipped to address these issues in ways that satisfy members representing a wide spectrum of viewpoints…Controversial decisions, made under heightened scrutiny, could be what prompts certain attendees to reevaluate church fit.” One pastor says that it “used to be a quieter thing, but now groups leave together and it’s louder than it used to be.” Kelley reports that churches are often losing the “back row,” as more active attenders have become more involved during the pandemic, the moderately involved have held steady, and those less engaged have ceased attending altogether.

Source: Preach the Word – The Website of Jared R Hiebert.

The prevalence of virtual services during the pandemic caused a lot of people to get lost in the shuffle. “The mix of people switching churches and worshiping online has created mystery around the true number of members who have exited church permanently,” Kelley writes. Small congregations and church plants have been better positioned to keep members during the pandemic. The loyalty necessary to keep a new church start-up going discouraged much church switching, while research by Lifeway Research found that smaller churches rebounded faster than larger ones. “Most small churches are still not back to pre-pandemic levels, but far more of them are reaching this point than larger churches,” said Scott McConnell of Lifeway. “It’s possible small churches are aided by perceived safety of a naturally smaller gathering, differences in technology options for gathering online, or the strength of relational connections,” he said.

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