What Will the Post-Coronavirus Church Look Like?

By Thom S. Rainer

Church leaders and members are rightly giving much attention to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In-person church services are being canceled. Small groups are meeting digitally, if at all. Church leaders are urging members to support the church financially through digital giving. Churches are preparing ways to minister to their communities in the midst of the pandemic.

I am grateful for the responses and for the caring hearts of so many church members. In the midst of a major challenge, it is heartwarming and reassuring to see many people who really care.

But the coronavirus will move past its pandemic state at some point in the future. I am fascinated to see what our churches will look like on “the other side.” Here are eight likely developments:

  • Non-digital giving will become an outlier. Fewer people will want to handle the offering plates or buckets. Fewer people will touch cash. Watch for a dramatic decrease in non-digital giving. Make certain you are moving your church to digital giving. Your church should be receiving 60% of gifts digitally right now. That number must grow. Have someone in your church who can help the digitally challenged to set up online giving for them personally.
  • Smaller worship services will become normal. We were already seeing a trend of churches moving to smaller worship gatherings, even if the church was growing. We anticipate many larger churches will attempt to have services capped around 250 to 300. Smaller churches will, of course, have even smaller gatherings. A 200 attendance church, for example, may move toward two services post coronavirus.
  • The 80% rule will become the 60% rule for worship gatherings. The 80% rule said that a worship center with a capacity of 200 feels full at 160 (80%). The 60% rule says the congregation will want more social distancing, and thus the 200 capacity worship center will reach its social distancing capacity at 120.
  • The negative economic impact on churches could have long-lasting effects. Church leaders should begin discussions of “what if?” What if our giving was cut by 30% for the next few years? What adjustments would we make?
  • Social distancing will change permanently some of the traditions in many churches. Stand and greet is gone and will not return in most churches. Church huggers will no longer be tolerated. Even handshakes will be minimized.
  • The death rate of churches will worsen. Many churches are barely hanging on. These churches will not survive the consequences of the coronavirus. The death rate of churches will thus increase significantly. These deaths can be mitigated, however, with an intentional focus on church adoption and church fostering.
  • Church adoption and fostering will increase significantly. I addressed this issue in my March 16, 2020 post. Church adoption takes place when a healthier church brings the people and assets of a struggling church into its church family. The adopted church becomes a campus of the adopting church. Church fostering is the process where a healthier church provides assistance and resources to a struggling church for a defined period, typically less than a year. Church fostering may or may not lead to church adoption.
  • Churches will rapidly adopt more virtual practices. Many churches have resisted the migration into the virtual world, but the coronavirus has taken many congregations into a quick immersion into the digital age. The initial forays have been to move into digital giving more fully and to stream some form of worship services. But coronavirus is the tipping point of much more to come in the digital world. Indeed, this change may be the most profound of all the changes churches will face after the coronavirus is no longer considered pandemic.

For certain, these are trying days. I know you know it, but remember God’s got this situation. He’s got you. And He’s got your church. I am in an ongoing conversation with the Church Answers community. Nearly 1,600 of us church leaders are providing regular updates and thoughts there. We would love to see you there.

Posted on March 18, 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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  • It’s obvious that you have not been in the pastorate for a long time. Brothers, you as a pastor/elder are the best consultant for your church.

  • Well I’m certainly surprised as to where this post went…I was truly optimistic in expecting the post to explain the ways in which the church is FINALLY on fire for God and actually THE CHURCH!
    While I do understand there are changes that will be made…I pray THIS is the wakeup call we’ve been praying for – a Revival this country hasn’t seen since one devoted prayer warrior, Jeremy Lanphier in 1857!

  • I don’t think the effect will be quite as dramatic as you think. People are social and if genuine danger subsides, I think it will be more “normal” eventually than not.

    Your point on digital giving and the use of virtual and video however is right on. The church has an odd tendency to not use modern tools for the sake of the gospel. Too often change is a 4 letter word. The message never changes but our methods must. Not to mention reaching the next generation, but that’s another subject. I’m 70 now, pastored for. over 35 years, and I believe the church should be on the cutting edge of using modern tools effectively for the gospel, especially in a crisis like this and after. When we don’t, we get caught in ineffectiveness.

    • Good points, Randy.

    • Yeah, I don’t think that germaphobia will become the new rule for very long. People will move on, unless this sort of thing becomes a frequent occurrence. People will shake hands and hug, and I doubt that people will still sit six feet away from others. Perhaps if the outbreak truly reaches crisis level everywhere, but if the mitigation works and cases in most areas stay very low, I think people will go back to normal very quickly in their social habits.

      As far as the digital stuff goes, I agree that we might find that people like virtual get-togethers and such. People will become used to interacting through virtual meetings and online content. This could be a very good thing, keeping people better connected throughout the week, but pastors will have to reemphasize the importance of physical presence–especially in corporate worship–even more.

  • Tom, I love how you love the Church (in all her glorious variety.) I look forward to your posts. Peace.

  • William Alan Secrest says on

    Today, I am learning how to make videos to put on our churches website. This will be the first time that I will have done a sermon in this format. I just got done meeting with my IT guy who gave me a crash course in making these videos. I am little nervous. The online giving piece is one that my church has avoided and the Trustees voted down. However, we are now being forced to go in this direction if we expect to receive tithes and offerings. It is not a bad thing but my older generation wants no part of it. I still write a check but I probably will give online when it is finally implemented.

    • You are right, William. Change is taking place more rapidly than many had planned.

    • Kevin Arndt says on

      Can you share what you learned in your crash course? We are at step 0.001 in that process. We have no official IT person beyond a member who is slightly more knowledgeable than the rest of us.

      • Kevin,
        I am a pastor that has some experience with it. You can go to facebook.com/alvinmbc to see some of what we do. E-mail me at [email protected] and I would be happy to walk you through it. You could use the same kind of remote desktop software that IT people use to let me set things up on your computer, while explaining it over the phone.

  • Matt Medford says on

    I’m in a small church, and I don’t see folks giving up hugs. It’s something people miss and long to get back to normal life. I imagine there will be a reaction when anyone coughs or sneezes!

  • Thank you for your research. Yes, God’s got this! Very interesting about the way our church may have to adjust in receiving tithes and offerings digitally. I beleive that is one thing our church needs to work on. In the midst of it all I am praying that it draws the people of God closer together not further apart. Thank you for your insight and thoughts and all that you do for the Kingdom. Regardless, God is and will continue to build His Church and I want to be a part of it.

  • Bill Pitcher says on

    You have just confirmed much of what I was suspecting.

  • Rev Marva says on

    Timely information and reminders to we leaders! Thank you very much.

  • I agree with the 80% to 60% rule change, but I have to admit to finding it a little ironic. I know of 3 or 4 churches in my town that just got done converting from multiple services to a single service in the past year or two. The objective was to increase connections among their congregation.

  • You will also see how well your leadership (clergy and lay) works together. Hopefully at the end of the crisis things will have progressed fairly smoothly and there can be a lessons learned. It may mean that some in leadership need to be removed.

  • Robert G Cleveland says on

    Very good observations, and it’s really good that you made them now. Churches need to be forewarned about things happening that they might not otherwise recognize.

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