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Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic we have heard dialogue about people who are more vulnerable to this coronavirus than are others. Much of the conversation has focused on older people, people in assisted living or nursing homes, people without easy access to health care, lower-income people or racial and ethnic minorities, and people with pre-existing conditions and diseases that make them vulnerable.
Some of the reasons for vulnerability are age and health related, and others are social and demographics related. Thrown in there has also been some political bias in terms of government policies that make testing and care accessible to some people and not to others.
From the perspective of church life, we have also observed congregations of various types who were vulnerable before this crisis and this Pandemic has heightened their vulnerable situation, or even strong congregations who are showing they also have aspects of vulnerability.
The obvious churches who are vulnerable are the smaller membership congregations who are continually working on issues of survivability. Without being able to meet – and even as they begin returning – the number of people actively connected with them has decreased. I met with one of these congregations this week and have meetings with various others over the next several weeks to talk about next steps and a way forward.
One interesting finding in some of these congregations is that although the number of people actively connecting with the congregation has decreased — whether this is virtually or in-person — offerings have not necessarily decreased. It is the less active and the less committed overall who are not connecting in some way. It is up to 50 percent of the attendance who do not tithe or provide significant offerings who may not be showing up in some way.
Now, let’s be careful. In some cases, there can be a sense of embarrassment. These may also be people who have lost jobs and/or income during this crisis. It can be people who are infected or quarantined. It can also be people who were living paycheck to paycheck and do not have a reserve on which they can fall back.
Would it surprise you, however, to know that larger congregations have also discovered points of vulnerability? They have programs, ministries, and activities they are discovering they cannot keep doing, and are also figuring out if they will be able to have much programming this fall. They have discovered that their online numbers were high for the first month of virtual worship, and are now decreasing.
Some are even discovering that as they open back up that for several weeks their attendance — while generally 50 percent or less of their typical attendance — has now started to decline? One congregation I talked with this week even suggested that if their live attendance drops below a certain benchmark number that they will return to only online worship.
In congregations of all sizes we are discovering people who are vulnerable spiritually and emotionally. The ministry needs of congregations — even within their own fellowship — is increasing. The pastors, ministers, other staff, and lay leaders themselves are experiencing some spiritual and emotional stress. Ministerial burnout may be a long-term issue which vulnerable churches must address.
In the midst of this, how are you doing? How is your church doing? How are the people of your congregation doing? How about the people in your community context with whom it is even more difficult than usual to have a connection? May we pray and act on God’s leadership.
George Bullard, www.BullardJournal.org, June 25, 2020