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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  • Juliet Leeder says on

    I am rather amazed that you talk about ‘eight likely developments’ as I would consider them to be ‘unlikely developments’. We are all called to trust in God in all situations.

    Proverbs 3:5-6
    Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
    in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

    Psalm 46:1-3
    God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

    Quote from Charles H. Spurgeon.
    “How despicable our troubles and trials will seem when we look back upon them!”
    “Wait a little longer. Ah, beloved! How despicable our troubles and trials will seem when we look back upon them! Looking at them here in the prospect, they seem immense; but when we get to heaven, they will seem to us just nothing at all….Let us go on, therefore; and if the night be ever so dark, remember there is not a night that shall not have a morning; and that morning is to come by-and-by”
    (Spurgeon Quotes MTP 44:104).

    Yes, we will all come through this. God is in control, not us. What right have we to impose things upon our fellow human beings? Who is in control of diseases and germs? Not us. What about the Great Plague in Britain and Europe? What about the Cholera outbreak in London in the 1850’s? Read about Martin Luther’s response during the Bubonic Plague when he was asked if a Christian should flee the plague. I could go on but if you read history and also follow what Christians did in this time, you will find that they were kind and compassionate and selfless. Many Christians cared for the sick knowing that they themselves, could become ill. That is not to say that unbelievers were not doing that too. They were. However, we are talking about the Christian community here. During and after both the Great Plague and the Cholera outbreak, churches were overflowing with people who wanted to know more about God and His goodness. They were thirsty for knowledge. There was great revival. Sadly, we are not seeing that these days. Many countries who purport to be Christian countries have lost their way.

    In light of all of the above, let us not institute new rules on people. Why should these rules be thrust upon folk? Do we not have enough faith? All preachers should be out there faithfully preaching to and teaching the people after the Coronavirus is no longer considered a pandemic. Why should this crisis be any different to others? We should just go on as before. I am not saying we should be foolish. Cleanliness should be paramount at all times, and I would have thought that we all learnt this from our parents and school teachers. Hygiene was part of the curriculum when I went to school. We should not be thinking about the ‘What if’s’ either, but have faith that God will provide. Do we now live in a society where finances are all important above the well-being of congregations? I am not saying that giving does not matter. Ministers and Churches need to have enough to survive. The question we need to ask is: ‘How much do we really need’ NOT ‘How much do we want so we can afford a new computer, a refurbished Church kitchen or a massive new building’. Those things are not what brings people into the church. Hugging our brothers and sisters in the Lord at Church and shaking hands should never be discouraged. What about when someone has suddenly found out they have a terminal illness or one of their family members has passed away. On the brighter side; what about when it is someone’s Birthday or they have some exciting news to share? Do we not cuddle them or shake hands? Is this the way it should be? Well I am telling you NO.

    Romans 16:16:
    “Greet one another with a holy kiss. … All the churches of Christ greet you.”

    Hebrews 10:23-25
    Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

    James 2:14-18
    What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
    But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

    I agree that technology is very useful and we are currently using this in order to hear sermons however, it should never replace a conventional church service. This is just a temporary measure. When this pandemic is over, we will all go back to normal. It is important that the people of God meet together and have fellowship with one another. Are we to all live in fear of the next virus or other crisis that may or may not come along?

    Hebrews 10:24-25
    And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

    We should all remember that, in this fallen world where many have turned away from the Lord and are very comfortable the way they are and don’t see a need for God or Christianity, are we being reminded that we have an all powerful God? We should trust that He will deliver us from this current crisis. We should be an example to unbelievers so that they will want to know why we are the way we are.

  • One critique, if that’s ok. Perhaps it is just semantics but I found this sentence a bit off-putting: ” Church huggers will no longer be tolerated.”

    I could understand “Church huggers will be discouraged from now on…” but “no longer tolerated”? The current usage of the word has a negative connotation. And it’s hard to ignore, given the context.

    Were they “tolerated” before–as if it was a bad thing, per se? “Church huggers” are somehow obnoxious or people to be “tolerated” as if they weren’t really welcomed before?

    A little clarification would be nice. Is this just an unfortunate choice of words?

    • Jeff Blaisdell says on

      I totally agree, Darryl. That statement, “Church huggers will no longer be tolerated” offended me deeply.

  • Bobby Gilbert says on

    Interesting . . .

    One point is we can look forward to hard currency disappearing. Theological problems could arise for many christians.

    Second point, a friend wrote me about the “money” government is planning to help the public in USA. He asked me if that is socialism. Ironically, I had been playing in my mind over money, digital money and virtual world. I guess kids who play these virtual world games from violent to building a community might better understand how a “virual world works”. The answer to a digital and virtual world probably can better understood in light of these games. Simpley, as germans would say especially farmers, “from nothing comes nothing”.

    We have an opportunity to build small communities of online prayer and support groups. good bye . . . conferences and conventions

    Good article.

  • Educated guesses, and you could be on-target with all of them.

    But, of course, there is no way to know for certain exactly how this will play out–until it does. (You didn’t claim otherwise, which I appreciate).

    If the 1918 Influenza pandemic is any guide, I doubt if we will change a lot of our former habits. Remember, a large portion of people are “touchers”–it’s how they interact–it’s part of their psyche, their personality. I suspect they will return to hugs and handshakes, eventually out of desperation.

    Digital giving (as you point out) has already been a part of church giving and growing every year. This will perhaps accelerate that already-existing trend. But no surprises there at all. (Even so, I bet the older Baby Boomers will still write and mail in checks–I know I’m not changing that habit, unless forced to).

    Smaller is better. Completely agree. The truth is, while megachurches get all the press, they are still the exception to the rule. Churches under 200 are what most people experience across America (I’d say churches under 100 make up a large portion of existing churches).

    Virtual church will increase? Perhaps. But only if we learn to do it right.

    Talking-head-satellite-style-passive-viewer-church? That’s not doing it right. And it won’t meet the need for human contact and friendship–any more than the tele-church of the 70s did. Sure it reached a segment of population, but it won’t be the majority (again, this is just my opinion, too–I could be completely wrong).

    Zoom-style interactive video conferencing as church when necessary? That’s what I expect to see more of. But honestly, those will always be second best to real face-to-face encounters.

    What do I think is even more likely?

    Forgive the cynicism: We will eventually react to this the way we react to the various flu viruses which kill far more of all ages and are equally transmittable: we will grow to accept the rate just as we accept the rate of car fatalities. It happens. Do what you can to be safe–but we won’t completely change our habits or lifestyles.

    We humans can be stubborn like that.

    We’ll return to what we found comfortable before whether in our day to day activities or our weekly gatherings.

    Just my two-cents and that won’t even take care of the tax on a cup of coffee!

    • Remember, too, the era that changed a generation was the Great Depression which lasted for 10 years–and it was sandwiched between two great wars–all of which demanded sacrifice and living lean. So it took three major world-changing events over several years to truly affect and change the habits of the Silent Generation.

      I won’t hazard a guess as to how long we will face this pandemic–but I suspect it won’t last nearly as long nor change folks and habits the way the Depression did.

  • Thanks for the post. Do you think that we should be including the online numbers into our total reach stats?

    I find that I reach more people per week online than I do in services. I also found that the people I am reaching many times are “fringe” or unchurched. Which I think is very important. So do you think including at those stats should be a priority going forward?

    Peace & Health,

  • Susan Theobald says on

    Alternatively….. the lack of personal communication experienced during the pandemic will make people realise just how important face to face and physical contact is and our churches will thrive! God will work in and through this and we worship a God who is all about real and loving relationships.

  • Paul Michael Onder says on

    The End of what we consider the Church is here. This World is passing and along with Mans control of it. The out come will be a Church that will be controlled by the Holy Spirit. The Government is on Jesus shoulders and the Children of God will serve Righteousness. Prepare yourselves and turn from your evil ways, Death and Sin are NO more. If you believe in the New Life in Christ then you will consider yourself to be a Forgiven Sinner!

  • Jeff Blaisdell says on

    The very thought that the post-covid church will be less expressive, less close; fewer handshakes, etc…(“church huggers will no longer be tolerated!” WOW! What a statement!) repels me and almost makes me weep. Church IS corporate…personal…togetherness. The “church huggers” in my church are one of my favorite sources of encouragement. And hand-shaking disappearing? Come on! Are we all going to be afraid of one another?
    We will need to get back to full, free, corporate coming together as rapidly as possible after this crisis is past, and rejoice once more in each other’s company.

    • lovelypeace says on

      My thoughts exactly! More people are going to want physical connection to others, not less. Especially after being isolated for weeks.

  • Charlie Moulton says on

    Outstanding Blog and of course Team Rainer and Church Answers is way out front. Just yesterday I was in a text thread with eight local pastors and referred the group to churchanswers.com Thanks for being a trusted resource, both personally and professionally.

  • Steven Housewright says on

    The church is pretty much leaderless during this national & worldwide crisis. They’ve abandoned communicating with the public as far as I can see. The concern? Revenues, lack of plate contributions, what will this mean for the future congregations… etc. Very sad response. You should be communicating with ideas of how you can love your neighbor during this time, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern.

    • Malko Odishoo says on

      I will say what Mr. Steven Housewright said. Most Churches today are concerned about the financial issue, a much more than what is the main duty of the Church especially in today’s World !

    • I think that’s a pretty broad statement. Many churches (or at least denominations) are putting forth an extensive effort to reach out to society – and not for money. One of the benefits of the denominational structure is the array of resources that tests and shares practices.

      Whether you agree with the theology of the Episcopal Church Bishop Michael Curry has been leading and preaching about caring for neighbors and loving God. In a very visible way.

      • Yes and last week’s sermon (Preached remotely) by the Presiding bishop was evidence of that. It is still online. The Dean of Washington National Cathedral led an online service with the bishop of Washington speaking as well but at home in self quarantine. You can utilise technology daily. The virtual Daily office has become commonplace. Jewish temples and synagogues have the virtual daily minyan too.

  • Roger Irvin says on

    Excellent post-thank you for your dedication verbalizing in digital media our concerns for our LORD’S church. I feel we will see a drastic drop in tithing and offerings given the way COVID 19 is immediately affecting the nation’s employment situation, we can only pray that it will rebound as quickly. I agree this will change the dynamics of church attendance on the other side of all this. Many of our smaller churches are not online and as mentioned in other comments here, are resistant to going there. It would behove our healthier churches to seek out and approach these congregations and tactfully offer any services that could help. I pray this is happening on a greater scale than I realize right now, especially now.

  • Huw Powell-Davies says on

    Good post, I to long to see what the church will look like ‘on the other side’ – more like the one ‘on the other shore’ hopefully. We have to lead that change though. Pray for our work as leaders and vision and boldness now in the midst of the emergency.