As a majority of churches around the country remained shuttered due to social distancing requirements, nearly half of pastors hope to be back in their buildings with their congregations by May. Most, however, expect their return might be longer, according to a new survey.
The data was reflected in recent weekly national pastor panel surveys for April 7-13 conducted by Barna measuring their well-being, attendance and giving.
When asked when they thought they’d be able to host church services in their usual location or building, 47 percent of pastors predict this will happen in May.
This group of pastors eyeing a May deadline, however, showed a 10 percent drop over the previous week when 57 percent of pastors in the survey picked it as their reopening month.
Some 50 percent of pastors in the survey also feel they won’t be able to return to their church buildings until June or later. Of this group, 35 percent chose June, 14 percent picked July or August while 1 percent imagine their return will be later.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump unveiled guidelines for Opening Up America Again, after weeks of a nearly nationwide lockdown that shuttered churches, schools and business in a bid to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has claimed the lives of more than 35,000 people nationwide as of Monday and was inching towards nearly 800,000 confirmed infections.
“Our experts say the curve has flattened and the peak in new cases is behind us. Nationwide, more than 850 counties, or nearly 30 percent of our country, have reported no new cases in the last seven days,” Trump said Thursday.
“Based on the latest data, our team of experts now agrees that we can begin the next front in our war, which we’re calling, ‘Opening Up America Again.’ And that’s what we’re doing: We’re opening up our country. And we have to do that. America wants to be open, and Americans want to be open,” he said.
The reopening of the country is set to be done in three phases and can begin once there has been a downward trajectory of coronavirus, influenza-like and the syndromic illnesses along with high levels of testing.
In “phase one,” large venues including gyms and churches are permitted to operate under “strict” social distancing and sanitation protocols.
Along with their hopes for reopening, pastors also shared in the Barna survey that there has been an upward trend in virtual attendance compared to in-person attendance figures.
Some 49 percent of church leaders reported in the survey that attendance had increased compared to 30 percent who said attendance was lower than usual. About 12 percent said attendance was the same.
The Barna data also shows that since national social distancing guidelines were put in place at the beginning of April, pastors have reported a decrease in financial giving.
“Whether because of the unprecedented toll COVID-19 disruptions have taken on congregants’ finances or because the reminder of the offering plate isn’t visible, church giving has continued to trend low over the past month,” the report said.