Faith Time: the pandemic’s impact on casual churchgoers

Faith Time

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Pastor Bert Park from Government Street United Methodist Church joins us to talk about how the pandemic could shake-up church attendance. Here’s a look at our conversation.

Anchor: We wanted to talk about the effect temporary closures have had on churches. If a church closes on a short-term basis because of the pandemic, what’s the risk of losing casual church goers?

Guest: HUGE! I would submit that there’s been NO greater threat to church attendance nation-wide since the post-WWII generation than the pandemic. Why? Because a large percentage of churchgoers today, sadly, are NOMINAL Christians—those who are there on Sunday simply to be seen as “members of the club”. And the reality is, MORE than a few will say: “You know, I really didn’t miss going to church all that much during this period”—particularly so in Mobile, where there are so many other competing weekend activities to resume once the pandemic is over.

Anchor: How do you combat the “out of sight, out of mind concept?

Guest: Despite being told that virtual on-line services are “a great new way to worship”, such thinking is naïve–catering to the needs of large churches that cannot accommodate the CDC guidelines of social distancing in order to resume their services. Moreover, worship is meant to be a “team sport” (if you will), and our experience here at Government St. Methodist throughout the pandemic has proven that to be perfectly safe (and hugely fulfilling)! Failing that, the only way to combat the separation is with weekly phone calls to every member of the congregation, which I did before resuming in-sanctuary worship 3 months ago.

Anchor: What committed church members, talk about the two camps that have emerged on whether people should attend church in person?

Guest: Having a number of older members in our congregation, the operative phrase that applies to us has been the following: “There are those who from the get-go were ‘DYING’ to return to worship—and those AFRAID of dying if they did”!! It all boils down to your use of the word “COMMITTED” church members in your question—though we remain sensitive to, and accommodate, the concerns of those with pre-existing conditions by continuing to tape our in-sanctuary services on-line.

Anchor: How do you remind people that there’s no pressure to return in person if they don’t feel safe?

Guest: We’ve made that perfectly clear to all those who feel compelled to stay away. Having said that, the title of your very program–Faith Time—(with emphasis on the “faith” part), speaks to the real underlying issue: Assuming we offer a safe venue conforming to all CDC guidelines (which we have), they are still actively encouraged to return. As but one was willing to admit and reconsider: “You know, I don’t think the first disciples would have surrendered weekly worship simply due to fears of an unseen virus that seriously affects, at worst, 5% of those infected.” So ours is not to pressure them, but merely give them the facts. And speaking as a physician myself, the fact of the matter is, Covid-19 is here for the long-haul–so its time we ALL adjust to that accordingly.

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