How can churches navigate 'new cultural reality' post-COVID? Barna highlights key findings

David Kinnaman of Barna speaks about the 'new normal' in a post-Covid church in a webcast on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
David Kinnaman of Barna speaks about the 'new normal' in a post-Covid church in a webcast on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. | Photo: Screengrab/

New data from Barna show the new cultural reality and spiritual landscape of the United States amid the multi-faceted disruption the global coronavirus pandemic has caused.

Barna Group President David Kinnaman noted in a webcast Wednesday that churches and ministries are grappling with a handful of crucial known and unknown factors.

"We know that God is for us, that God has not given us a spirit of fear but one of power, love and of a sound mind," he said, referencing 2 Timothy 1:7, praising pastors who have stepped up and served through these challenges.

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Barna researchers asked in a survey how often in the past seven days people have felt lonely. Millennial respondents were far more likely to report they had experienced loneliness "all the time" or "for at least some of each day" than Generation X or Boomers.

The coronavirus crisis seems to be accelerating the mental health problems and relational well-being issues besetting many people, Kinnaman explained, concurrent with the loneliness and isolation many are experiencing.

Spiritually speaking, during the pandemic half of all self-identified Christians reported that they were praying more than usual, 17% said they were reading the Bible more, and 6% said they were experiencing spiritual doubt. Some 43% of respondents said none of those things.

An interesting data point in the survey was that millennials were more likely to say that they were reading the Bible more than usual than were Boomers, Kinnaman noted.

With churches pivoting toward digital meeting formats, among practicing Christians approximately half have been streaming their regular church online. Around one-third have streamed a different church, and the rest have done neither and appear to be taking the time off.

"Practicing Christians" were defined in the research as those who, before the COVID-19 outbreak, were attending church once a month or more.

"We find that one in four practicing Christians say that they watch multiple church services on any given weekend and three out of 10 say they watch but not on a Sunday," Kinnaman said.

Among non-Christians the data show that not many are doing overtly spiritual things such as joining a small group or reading the Bible, but prayer is being explored more, he explained.

"We're not going back to normal,'" Kinnaman said, regarding the future of church-based ministry.

He reiterated that the COVID-19 pandemic has merely accelerated the disruptions that were already occurring in culture, accentuating a sense of a deep cultural chaos and which is impacting many spheres of society.

While many Christians would like to return to church they are uncertain about how safe they're going to be, he added.

"I think we're going to see is a really interesting sort of 'new normal,' a lot of deep disruptions that are going to take place over many months and maybe even many years," he said.

"The COVID crisis is going to accelerate many needed changes for the church. How is it that we are going to show up in an anxious moment for an anxious generation, for an isolated generation, for people that are struggling with questions but maybe aren't all that hungry for spiritual answers?" he posited.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalterFollow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow

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