“Church Ministry and Online Services during the Pandemic” Research Report
Ray Bakke Centre for Urban Transformation
Christian Communications Ltd.
The Coronavirus Disease Pandemic has largely disrupted churches' operations and ministries. Due to the public gathering ban, most churches have to suspend their physical worship and gatherings. In September 2020, Ray Bakke Centre for Urban Transformation and Christian Communication Limited jointly launched two online surveys to look into church ministry and online services during Covid from the viewpoint of churches and congregants respectively. The congregant survey received a total of 2,151 responses while the church survey was filled in by pastors representing 171 churches. Below are the key findings from the surveys:
Theme 1: The Pandemic did not have Heavy Impact on Congregants' Participation in Online Worship Services
According to the survey results, over 95% of the survey respondents participated in online worship services in the four weeks prior to when they filled in the survey (during August to September); which 73.7% of them have joined every Sunday. This illustrates that the public gathering ban and shift to online worship services have not largely impacted congregants' level of engagement in worship services. For marginal churchgoers who have not been going to church stably before the pandemic, 65.5% of them still joined their churches' online services during the pandemic and about 30% of them joined the online services of another church.
When asked about their churchgoing plan when the pandemic is over, 80% of our survey respondents indicated their plans to go back to their own churches' physical services. Among the different age groups of respondents, there are more from those aged 30-39 who plan to attend another church's online or physical services. 41.4% of respondents from this age group also reported that they have joined online services of another church during the pandemic. These results may reflect that church congregants of 30-39 have a larger tendency to move to another church when compared to other age groups. Overall, the survey results demonstrate the stability in churchgoing pattern among Hong Kong church congregants even in the pandemic.
Theme 2: Congregants Aged 18-29 Struggles to Engage in Online Services
The survey for church congregants covers their views towards online services. Among the different age groups, younger respondents aged 18-29 were found with the lowest level of engagement compared to the other age groups. They also indicated the largest difficulty in finding quiet space to engage in online worship services. This points us to the struggles of younger congregants as they lack personal space or their own room to join and concentrate in online worship services. Younger congregants also seem to prefer physical church gatherings as they indicate higher anticipation in joining physical service and gatherings again.
Theme 3: Marginal Churchgoers Favour Online Services In the congregant survey, 191 respondents were church marginalgoers before the pandemic who attended church but not regularly. 34% of this group of respondents are aged 18-29 and 23% are aged 30-39. Among marginal churchgoers in this survey, 43% reported they have joined other churches' online services and 39.3% of them only attended online services of their own church; while 17.3% did not join any worship in the past 4 weeks before filling in the questionnaire. Compared to regular church attendees, marginal churchgoers indicated they feel more ministered to by the sermon messages in online services, and more from this group also noted their support towards online and offline hybrid mode of church services after the pandemic. This is possibly due to the lesser limitations in space and time for online services, which made it easier for marginal churchgoers to join and engage. 57.6% of marginal churchgoer respondents indicated they would go back to their own church's worship service after the pandemic.
Theme 4: Factors that influence Congregants' Church Service Engagement and Relationship with God during the Pandemic
From the results and analysis of the research, four factors have been identified that influence Congregants' church engagement and relationship with God during Covid:
More Pastoral Care and Sharing : Most survey respondents reported that their pastors or church leaders have contacted them as much as before pandemic. The data analysis showed that congregants whose pastors contacted them more often or had more pastoral sharing, they rated relatively higher in being able to maintain a relationship with God.
Sermon Messages Focused on Biblical Teaching : In the survey, respondents were asked what help they need the most at the moment. 56.4% of respondents chose they need sermon messages focused on biblical teaching. This illustrates that believers still hope to be ministered through biblical teaching and they still hope for spiritual growth even in the pandemic.
Support From Fellowship and Small groups : Most survey respondents maintained their participation in fellowship and small groups in the pandemic, 59.3% of them joined online fellowship and small groups, 16.9% went to physical fellowship or small groups. Among those who joined online fellowship or small groups, 70.6% were still able to feel the support from brothers and sisters. In the linear regression analysis, participation in fellowship and small groups is also the leading factor that can predict whether congregants can maintain relationship with God during the pandem
Community Service Participation : According to the survey results, 80% of the respondents reported that their churches have given out masks or other sanitizing material as a form of community serving. 22.5% of respondents had personally engaged in these community services. Data analysis reflects that respondents who had personally engaged in community serving rated higher in being able to maintain relationship with God during the pandemic.
Theme 5: More than half of Church Respondents Maintained their Offering Income during the Pandemic
Most church ministries have been heavily impacted during the pandemic, and churches' offering and expenses also faced some changes. Among the 171 church respondents in the survey, 38% reported offering income to be approximately the same as last year, 32% reported more offering than this time last year, and 25.8% received less offering. The results indicated that about 70% of churches maintained or even had more offering income during the pandemic. As many ministries have been suspended, about half of the church respondents reported decrease in income church expenses compared to last year.
From the church survey filled in by church pastors, the results reflect that churches have made a lot of adjustments during the pandemic. It is important to note that over half of the churches from the survey hold positive views towards online church services and are actively considering online ministry development. Research results also point to the practical challenges of online and offline ministry of hybrid mode, including the engagement with congregants along with delivering sermon messages effectively, and making connections to non-believers or new-comers.
Both the church survey and congregant survey show that congregants at their personal perspective and churches at the ministry development perspective hold positive views towards church going online and the development of online ministry. This is indicative towards more development and possibilities in online ministry. Along with that , the personal and physical touch in relationship building and community service is still crucial and cannot be missed.
Although this study may not reflect the situation of all churches or speak for all believers, each research helps the christian community understand more about each other's experience and give voice to more that need to be known and understood, and for us to learn together in this fast changing era. May we stand firm in hope and to work together in expanding God's kingdom.
We would like to thank all churches and brothers and sisters who helped to disseminate and respond to the survey. Special thanks to our consultants Prof. Kara Chan, Dr. Harry Hui & Dr. Neil Kwan as they gave invaluable advice towards our research design and analysis.