Five Ways Churches Are Responding to a Second COVID Spike

Though a number of pundits told us to expect a second COVID spike, we were all hoping it would not happen.

In many areas, the spike has happened.

We at Church Answers are in constant conversation with church leaders, so we were really curious to know how churches are responding. Between our Church Answers’ community of 2,000 leaders and social media, we heard directly from over 200 church leaders. They shared five responses that we list here in order of magnitude. 

  1. Taking extra caution. The number one response is a commonsensical response. The church leaders see the COVID numbers on the rise, so they adjust with additional cautions. Several churches strongly encouraged the members to resume wearing masks. A number of churches decided to move their small groups to digital only, even though they began meeting in person just a few weeks earlier.
  1. Making no changes. For the most part, the churches in this second most frequent category felt like their current level of cautions were sufficient. Even with greater numbers of COVID cases, they saw no need to make changes. A few leaders in this category told us that the number of cases in their areas had not increased.
  1. Offering more options. The third most frequent response was making changes by offering more options. The most common option was additional worship services. “We had moved back to our pre-COVID number of services of two,” a Pennsylvania pastor told us. “But we are seeing an increase in COVID cases, so we are going back to three services to allow for even more social distancing.” 
  1. Deciding to close again. This response was a distant fourth. Some leaders thought the numbers of cases warranted their closing again. Many of them actually dreaded the second closing more than the first. They thought a number of church members would give up on attending. The leaders nevertheless decided to close again as an abundance of caution.
  1. Keeping the status quo of not opening. A few of the church leaders told us they had not opened at all since the pandemic began. This second spike in COVID cases meant that most of them would not open until some time in 2021. One pastor shared that his church will not open before April 2021. To be clear, very few churches are in this category.

These are the top five responses we received to our inquiry about responses to the second COVID spike. Let us hear from you. How is your church responding?

Posted on November 9, 2020

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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  • We didn’t open, but had come close. We are glad God delayed us, as staying closed is probably easier now. We plan to stay closed until spring/vaccinations are common.

  • Roy Wahlgren says on

    We are a small, older congregation in a small rural community. (12 is small) We’ve been shut down since mid March. We had services for 3 weeks in May and have been doing Zoom since then. We have parents and spouses that a compromised health wise. I, as pastor have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and am just finishing radiation treatments. I’ve compensated by sending “encouragement” and “praying for you cards every week. I truly miss meeting with my members. The number of phone calls have increased. Giving is way down.

  • “We heard directly from over 200 church leaders.” 200 is a very small sample size.
    This survey would be more meaningful if there were
    (1) more responses
    (2) indication of where these churches are in the country (Some regions are more “open” than others; for regions that are less open, church members themselves may have indicated a desire to gather/worship digitally rather than in-person.)
    (3) indication of rural or urban
    (4) denomination (Some churches have received guidance from their National leadership to be more cautious about in-person services, while others have been urged to open as soon as possible).
    I see others have responded on similar lines.
    Just because worshippers are not gathering in-person does not mean those church communities have “given up.”
    We continue to pray for each other, call or send snail/e-mail, connect, worship, sing through digital means.
    God is present; my God is not limited to the four walls of a church building.
    Our ministry field lies beyond the doors of the church: be global, serve local

  • Hi Thom
    I so enjoyed your podcast with Cary N. today. I am a female pastor in New England and struggle with this since our numbers increase all the time in a very populated area. We had planned to reopen in person on Nov 15, but pulled back due to the doubling numbers. Now I kind of regret that. So will be considering opening Dec 6th in person. We are a very small church and can easily spread out. Also, I am interested in reaching people for Christ through digital media. This podcast made me hopeful and clear this must be how I spend my time. Pastoral care is increasing, so as a half time pastor, do you have suggestions on how to manage a schedule. My feeling is that we need to bring a social media coordinator on board to help with all the digital stuff. I see this person as a right hand servant for the digital outreach and should be one with a heart for evangelism. What are your thoughts? Thank you so much and blessings

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Donna –

      I think you are on target with your thoughts. The digital world is more of a mission field than a tool. Such a person could be real blessing to the church and to the community. Thanks for listening.

  • Two weeks ago our church had a superspreader event. Once we knew about it, services were switched to livestreaming only for the next month. I’m not sure what will happen in December. Covid has jumped extremely high in our city.

  • I’m extremely concerned how to balance between SALVATION AND SAFETY in this Pandemic. Both concerns are life changing and I know God desires both.
    We were out of service since March and had our re-opening service on November 1.
    About half of the congregation return while the older generation haven’t.
    Please share thoughts.

  • The church I was going to in Illinois was leaving mask optional my pastor would tell ppl you can wear them or not they were not enforcing it. They just had section for ppl who wore mask and a section for those who didn’t want to . We did also stat doing church online too , which is what I have been choosing to do since I have asthma , and another chronic illness . The church I go to has had ppl with Covid and only closed in the very beginning and one Sunday when we had a lot of ppl sick. Our Mayor is fighting the restrictions and most of the places in my town are following suit choosing not to adhere including my church still having gatherings.

  • We began reopening very slowly in June. We’re offering 2 socially distanced services and a video overflow and asking everyone to wear masks coming and going (most do). We’re screening the health of children’s workers before they can serve. We began Kids’ Church in July and Adult Bible Studies (Sunday School) the end of September. Our 2 most senior groups are not meeting.

    Limited youth groups and Wednesday night programming just began. So far God has chosen to keep us from spreading COVID-19, but the numbers are going up here, and we are constantly evaluating. As was said in the VSM this AM, last week’s decisions are often obsolete!

  • I’m interested that you said “very few churches” are in the status quo of not opening. That may be true of your survey sample, but there are a lot of churches still closed. For example, the entire Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church continues to be closed for in-person gatherings — 177,000 members in 642 churches in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the panhandle of West Virginia. Many others in the DC-metro area have likewise remained closed since mid-March.

  • Brother Thom, we have decided to remain open with strict social distancing guidelines. From the time we reopened in mid-July we have required masks covering nose and mouth, 6 feet social distancing, one person in restrooms at a time, and people are asked to place their offering on a table instead of passing a plate. We will observe the Lords Supper when it is more safe to do so. We also are broadcasting on low wattage FM radio so people can worship with us in the parking lot and are live streaming on Facebook live. Attendance and giving are up. People appreciate us being sensitive to safety and are attending.

  • responses #’s 4 & 5 – just give up, huh?!
    we’ve been meeting in-person since May 31. increase in cases does not translate automatically into hospitalizations and deaths yet the “health experts” and autocratic government leaders continue to scare everybody to death. they are a greater danger to the church and religious freedom than the virus is.

  • neil macqueen says on

    Two questions for you, Thom: (1) Who are these 200 respondents from a denominational perspective and are there denominational differences you can detect in “who’s back”? (2) What about non-worship activities such as in-person Sunday School and Bible study?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Neil –

      The respondents I could identify were in churches that were both non-denominational and in eleven different denominational groups. I only asked about gathered, in-person worship services.

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