Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Study: Churches' Ministry to Those Hurt by Pandemic Shows Monumental Growth

Today's Religion News Service (RNS) is reporting that according to a survey conducted by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, more than half of Christian congregations say they have started a new ministry or expanded an existing one during the COVID-19 pandemic. On average, in fact, these Christian houses of worship began or broadened more than three of their outreach activities in response to the pandemic. 

The Hartford Institute's report is the second installment in a five-year project that began earlier this year called “Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations,” based on a collaboration among 13 denominations from the Faith Communities Today cooperative partnership and institute staffers. If their findings are representative of the roughly 320,000 Christian congregations in the country, the institute said, the researchers estimate that nearly 175,000 churches launched or expanded ministries, funds and supplies in response to the pandemic over the past two years. Overall, almost three-quarters (74%) of churches have offered social support during the pandemic and close to two-thirds of congregations say they have been involved in new ministries.

According to the RNS report,

The new findings, a November survey drawn from 820 responses from representatives of 38 Christian denominational groups, showed significant changes in congregations’ attitudes toward change, particularly increasing diversity. Less than three-quarters (73%) agreed in 2020 that their congregations were willing to change to meet new challenges. That increased to 86% in November.

There also seemed to be greater interest in striving to be diverse, with 38% describing themselves as doing so in November compared with 28% in summer of 2021 and 26% before the pandemic and before the majority of the 2020 protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

But even as congregations considered new ways of operating, an increasing number are concerned about their future, with 23% saying they are worried about their ability to continue, compared to 16% in the summer.

This worry may well be the result of a grim reality: the institute’s researchers estimated that some 200,000 church members have lost their lives due to COVID-19. The percentage of churches reporting deaths within their membership increased from 17% in the summer to 28% in November, when the second survey was conducted. The average number of deaths among those reporting losses in their congregation was 2.3, up slightly from 2 in the summer.

In response, Allison Norton, co-investigator of the study, told RNS in an email, “This is a sobering picture; however, we would have expected an even greater loss, given the aging population of regular churchgoers.” 

The project’s first report, based on responses from summer 2021, showed that about a third of congregations had increased requests for food. About a quarter received more requests for financial assistance during the pandemic. The November survey found that 22% said they had added or increased food distribution and 21% had enhanced or begun financial assistance for their community.

It is good to see churches functioning in society as they should.

Prof. Vaughn E. James, Texas Tech University School of Law

 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/nonprofit/2021/12/study-churches-ministry-to-those-hurt-by-pandemic-shows-monumental-growth.html

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