Many aspects of our lives have taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic — mental health, physical health, relationships and more. According to Barna, church attendance seems to be the latest on the list. A study conducted during April and early May, during the height of the U.S. social distancing measures, found that 1 in 3 people who identified as “practicing Christians” was not attending church — meaning tuning in to at least one online service — during the quarantine.
Perhaps the bigger news was that millennials led the way in this non-attendance.
“A profile of these groups of online churchgoers reveals a strong generational pattern. When asked if they had attended church within the past four weeks, exactly half of practicing Christian Millennials (50%) say they have not. The percentages of Gen X and Boomers who have stopped attending online services (35% Gen X, 26% Boomers) are lower than among their younger counterparts, but still show the impact of COVID-19 precautions and regulations on what used to be a regular practice.”
Back in March, when my area was issued a “shelter in place” order, my church, like many others, scrambled to stream church services. The first few weeks, the novelty of what they called “Home Church” was pretty cool. Though I’ve continued to faithfully “tune in” to church, the online format has grown old. I deeply miss gathering with my brothers and sisters in Christ, worshiping together, sharing conversations. I have also seen the negative fallout caused by the lack of communication and connection among church members during this season.
However, this study reveals that higher numbers of those who have not been attending digital services report being anxious about their lives, not having peace, being bored all the time, and feeling insecure — than the church-attending crowd. So while I may be discontent with the digital format at times, it is making a difference in my spiritual life.
I think it’s interesting that the generation most familiar with digital routines and technology is the most disconnected during this pandemic. The church should be reaching out to young adults and singles who seem to be falling away. I remember hearing my pastor years ago say, “I don’t know how to reach your generation. You have to be the ones to do it.” I found that statement disheartening because I longed to be known and cared for by my church.
But over time, I realized that part of feeling known and cared for is plugging in. It’s showing up for your spiritual life, just as you do for other areas. It’s taking seriously the instruction in Hebrews to not stop meeting together with fellow Christians through any means available to you at the time. I totally get how frustrating it is to not have the in-person contact many of us are longing for, but there is a benefit to simply talking with other Christians and encouraging one another in Christ.
Last night, I had a two-hour Zoom call with my small group. We talked about hard things going on in our lives. We read Scripture together. We prayed. We cried. Though our “meeting” took place over a screen, we experienced true fellowship with each other and Christ.
In “Plugging Into the Church,” I wrote:
“Our generation is looking for a cause worth investing our whole lives in. Twenty-somethings have a lot to offer. Generations X and Y are deeply spiritual, concerned about their neighbors and willing to take big risks. We resonate with Christ’s challenge that a man “take up his cross and follow me.” That is passion that is well-spent within the church.
When we plug into our congregations, we can reap the full benefit of what the Body of Christ was intended to be. The truth is, the church needs us as much as we need it.”
Church — as well as many other entities — is suffering during the pandemic. That is all too clear. However, Christ is our head and still chooses to use His Church to reconcile those in the world to himself. That’s a high calling. It’s a calling I want to show up for. Let’s go to church.
Copyright 2020 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.