Five Moves Churches Are Making in the Second COVID Spike

Many areas are seeing a COVID spike a second time, some even greater than the first spike. We have been communicating with hundreds of pastors each week who contact Church Answers with questions and information.

When COVID became known and pervasive, most churches immediately ceased all in-person activities, including worship services. The most common responses included establishing digital worship services and digital small groups. This time, the responses are different. Of course, we understand that every church and every context are different. Still, we see five common themes among most of the churches in their latest responses to the pandemic. 

  1. Continuing in-person services with less participation. This time, most churches have decided to keep the in-person services open. But the leaders have encouraged those with health challenges, the elderly, and those with any exposure to COVID patients and victims to remain at home and watch the services virtually. Obviously, worship attendance has been hit again by this move.
  2. Renewing emphasis on digital services. Churches in general have gone through three phases with digital services. First, they moved to digital with enthusiasm and effort. Second, as they returned to in-person services, many churches gave much less attention to streaming services. Now, in the third phase, churches are renewing their emphasis on digital services. More church leaders are realizing they should not have decreased their emphasis on digital services at all.
  3. Making adjustments to the budget. Many church leaders were pleasantly surprised to see giving stay strong in the early stages of the pandemic. There was a sense that church members were rallying to a cause. The stimulus funding by the federal government helped as well. Then, the giving began to wane in many churches. We anticipate giving to be down around 20% in 2021, even with the second round, and possibly a third round, of stimulus funding.
  4. Many small groups returning to digital. Some churches have moved all of their small groups back to digital. Other churches have a mix of in-person and digital small groups. The churches that have maintained their emphasis on small groups, whether digital or in-person, are typically among the healthiest congregations today.
  5. More staff transitioning to co-vocational. There is a clear and definitive trend of vocational ministry staff moving to a co-vocational role. Some of the moves are by financial necessity. These staff are typically called bi-vocational. They have two paying jobs, one at the church and another in secular ministry. The church does not have the resources to pay the person full-time. More are moving into co-vocational roles by choice, either coming from secular vocations or going to secular vocations. The “tentmaker” ministry may be among the biggest changes in church life in 2021. 

We will keep you updated as we get feedback from the church leaders we serve at Church Answers. And we would love to hear from you about the steps you are currently taking at your church.

Thank you for serving. Let us hear how you are doing.

Posted on January 18, 2021


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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26 Comments

  • Thank you Dr. Rainer. Your posts help me know I’m not crazy. Or alone in the weirdness! Keep ‘em coming!
    Dr Phil Herrington

  • Thank you for your incredible work! My husband and I really enjoy reading your articles. My husband is the pastor of a rural church just outside Tucson. What you write is always spot on.

  • George A. Jackson says on

    Thanks, so much for sharing. These have been a great help, and it is very truthful. I’m a Pastor of a rural Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and it has been difficult in these past months. The churches concern has been having great participation from the congregation in the virtual ministries. God has showed up in the finances, but we’re not getting the participation online that I wish. We’re probably getting more participation from non-members than actually members.

  • Thanks for keeping us up on the helpful trends!

  • Daniel Manguriu says on

    In our church, each pew sits three people instead of six. The pews were initially arranged to ensure 1.5 m social distance where the church was to accommodate mandatory 100 congregants. No socialization is allowed after service.
    Church members are encouraged to go home immediately after church service. Like most churches the elderly above 58 yrs and people with underlying conditions are advised to stay and watch the service virtually at home. Members have been faithful in giving towards God’s work.

  • We have had services outside everyone 6 ft apart and mask in parking lot.We are now on utube 2 times per wk.We also are on radio station for those who can’t be around anyone as long as they are in church parking lot during our 1 in person service per wk.We moved our pews and all sit 6ft apart unless same household,mask and hand sanitizer.This past yr has been my biggest challenge in 44 yrs of ministry.We are determined with Gods help to get his word out.God has allowed us to have 30 in house services with being hit by COVID-19 God bless all Pastors and churches.

  • Eric Morrison says on

    My church is doing a mix of in person, in car and live stream for worship. Between the three venues we are at about 70% of our original attendance before COVID. There is a Sunday School for kids during the worship time for ages preschool to 6th grade. The groups are broken up to no more than for or 5 kids to a space. We are a small church so this is working well.

    We did have a elementary kids group this fall on Wednesdays and kept it outside a much as possible. We stopped this over the Christmas break and plan to go back to Wednesday nights with the same Sunday school concept of smaller groups and more teachers.

    Our hardest group to maintain has been the teenagers and young adults.

  • Thank you for continuing input into the Kingdom, Thom. It is always an encouragement to read your posts and articles. I attended your CCU last week and I am considering it for the future as I move closer to retirement.

    Keep up the great work and may God continue to bless you and your family,

    Steve Gallimore
    Senior Pastor
    Tennessee Valley Community Church
    Paris, TN

    TVCC: 731-641-TVCC
    Cell: 731-336-4778

  • Kathy Conner says on

    We are enjoying your articles. We find them helpful and very relevant for today’s situation.

  • This is good information, the churches that I serve or mostly doing this.

  • Thank you for the article. We have seen the transition of small groups to be mainly online and it seems to be working out better than expected. While it is not the preferred method, it is beginning to be accepted as a viable alternative. Also, we just started on campus services after a three Sunday “digital only” due to several cases within the church. The numbers coming back on campus are about half. Which is also about half of the original crowd that came back after April. However, our numbers are good digitally and the church’s faithfulness in giving has been steady. Thank you for the informative article. Pastor John

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    Here’s what one church with whom I am associated is doing. It is located in a “red-zoned” county in Kentucky which has a 12% infection rate. A 12% infection rate is quite high.

    1. Limits the size of worship services and other gatherings. This limits the number of people who might get infected if someone infectious shows up at a gathering and despite the church’s safety measures infects others at the gathering. Continues to require advanced registration for worship services.
    2. Livestreams all worship services on Facebook and cable TV. They are recorded and posted on Facebook for people to view later in the week. Encourages older people, those with pre-existing conditions and others in the high-risk category to view the services online.
    3. Requires all people on the platform—musicians, vocalists, worship leaders, and the pastor to wear masks throughout the service. The pastor does lower his mask to preach the sermon. Limits the number of people on the platform. Requires social distancing. No choir at the traditional service. Reduced the size of the praise band at the contemporary service.
    4. Requires face masks and social distancing at all gatherings. Attendees must wear face masks the entire gathering. Discourages small knots of people congregating before gatherings or lingering after gatherings.
    5. Made small rooms with poor ventilation off limits to small groups. Small groups are encouraged to meet online. Small groups may meet on campus in the building complex’s few large, well-ventilated open spaces (e.g. gymnasium) but these spaces must be scheduled in advance. Discourages small groups from meeting in private homes and similar venues due to the high transmission risks. Small gatherings in which members of several households mix have been identified as one the major ways that the virus is spreading in the state.
    6. The church’s children’s ministry is temporarily suspended on campus. The church is experimenting with various forms of online children’s ministry. It did its summer vacation Bible school online.
    7. Converted its community feeding and emergency food distribution ministries to drive through/walk through.
    8. Distributes free face masks not only to attendees but to members of the community. Encourages face mask wearing outside of church as well as social distancing, hand washing, and other CDC and state and local healthy authorities’ recommended safety measures.
    9. Has set up hand sanitizer stations throughout the building.
    10. Encourages online giving. Is not passing a collection plate at worship services but has set up collection box at the back of the sanctuary in which attendees can leave offerings. Something that churches may want to do but which this church has not gotten around to doing is to set up a credit/debit card reader station where attendees can make a donation by card.
    11. Ask staff, volunteers, and attendees not to come to church if they are running a temperature or experiencing other symptoms.

    Two steps that churches may consider to further reduce transmission risks is to limit the occupancy of restrooms to one person at a time, a safety measure that a number of schools have adopted, and to limit the occupancy of elevators to one person at a time, a practice the local university has adopted. It also limits the flow of traffic in the halls of its buildings to one way wherever possible. It requires all students, faculty, and staff to take their temperature everyday and report it on a special cell phone app. Temperature checks, however, will not detect infected individuals who are asymptomatic as they will not have a temperature and they account for as much as 50% of infections, according to the CDC. It also encourages students, faculty, and staff to report unauthorized gatherings to the university and to refer anyone who is exhibiting symptoms to the university’s health clinic or to their own doctor.

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