Researcher: One-Fifth of Churches to Succumb to COVID-19

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted September 09, 2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic has already transformed education, business, and even politics—but will it also transform the church in America?

According to David Kinnaman, president of noted evangelical research firm Barna Group, as many as one in five American churches could shut their doors for good—some as soon as in the next year and a half—thanks to the pandemic and state-mandated closures.

Speaking on NPR’s Here & Now broadcast, Kinnaman said, “In the long run, I think we’ll look back at this pandemic as a fundamental change to the way Americans … attend church. You know, obviously, there’ll be a lot more online attendance than ever before, even after all churches reopen. I think the … digital church is … here to stay. And I think it’s also going to really change the way people think about their donation relationship with local churches."

That “donation relationship” appears to be a key factor in determining which churches will or will not make it back.

Bottom Line Blues

Offering plate with money

While a church is, indeed, a body of believers, we must admit that in many ways a local congregation is also a business.

Think about it: Your local church likely uses a building. There are costs for utilities, maintenance, and cleaning, and salaries for the pastor and church staff.

Paying for these fixed costs is generally accomplished through the tithes and offerings of the congregation. (A notable exception is Trinity Church in New York City’s Lower Manhattan district, whose investment portfolio was valued at $6 billion in 2019.)

But with the prolonged halt of weekly in-person worship and the millions forced into unemployment, the “bottom line blues” experienced by many churches shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you don’t have income from a job, it becomes much more difficult to tithe.

An old saying goes, “If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.” That’s as true for churches as it is for individuals.

These forebodings aren’t new: Two months ago, this blog asked, “Has COVID-19 Killed the Church?” Since then, it seems, churches’ prospects have continued to fall, as evidenced by the confidence of pastors in the survival rate of their own congregations—a number that has dropped from 70 to 58 percent.

Kinnaman added, “Simply reopening a church doesn’t … fix the underlying economic challenges that you might have as a congregation. There will have to be an even greater demonstration of the value a church brings, not just to those who attend but also [to] those who are part of its community.”

For how many people is the notion of “attending” church from the living room sofa, viewing a streamed service via YouTube, now more valuable than dressing up and going across town?

Back to the Basics?

“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” These famous words have been attributed to Danish politician Karl Kristian Steincke, movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, and baseball great Yogi Berra. And how sardonically true they are.

So, for this blog—or anyone else, to be honest—to offer a definitive assessment of what will happen to local congregations in the next year or two is probably unwise. Believers can hope and pray for the best, while recognizing that the worst can strike.

But perhaps “the worst” is actually an opportunity for God to use to His glory. “But as for you,” said Joseph to his brothers, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to … save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). Is this pandemic just such a case?

Perhaps now is the time for Christians to go back to the early days of the faith and see how the gospel was spread. In Acts 5:42, we read that “daily in the temple, and in every house, they [the early believers] did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

While the early Christians worshiped “in the temple”—the equivalent of today’s sanctuary or church building—they also gathered “in every house.” This “house church” concept, which emerged following the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is regaining popularity today. It was the backbone of the early church, and it could very well become the foundation of a revival today.

While Amazing Facts International believes in and works with local congregations in fulfilling our mission to bring God’s Word to a hurting world, we are also committed to supporting personal evangelism. Many people, if not most, who are won to Christ are influenced by close friends or relatives. In an era of pandemic closures, such one-to-one outreach takes on greater importance.

If you feel tongue-tied when trying to explain basic doctrines or while witnessing to others, may we suggest the online programs from AFCOE—the Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism? These courses, taught by Pastor Doug Batchelor and other experienced Amazing Facts instructors, are available anytime, anywhere, and on any device and serve to ground you in essential truths and practical witnessing.

Revelation Now Poster

You can also consider hosting a small group to watch Revelation Now: Decoding the Bible’s Greatest Prophecies, Pastor Doug’s new series beginning October 23 from the new W.O.R.D. Center on the Amazing Facts campus in Granite Bay, California. There will also be a live translation in Spanish and free Bible lessons available in 10 languages. Sign up for news and information here.

Whatever happens to local congregations in the wake of the pandemic, the need for an individual witness for Jesus remains. May God help each of us to be ready to share the good news with those in need!

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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