A new study has found that pastors are concerned about disunity among their congregation as the coronavirus continues to affect every area of church life.
In its study, 'Pastors’ Views on How COVID-19 is Affecting Their Church', US-based group Lifeway Research interviewed 443 pastors via email, unearthing concerns about differing opinions on the reopening of churches.
When quizzed on certain "pressure points” they faced during this season, one-quarter of pastors surveyed (27 per cent) said “maintaining unity/conflict/complaints” was the most pressing challenge.
Some of the responses from pastors highlighted this increasing disunity and tension. “People are very upset about our state's mandatory mask requirements. At least two key families will not come to church because they refuse to wear a mask," one said.
Another added: “I'm feeling the pressure of helping the congregation to have love and grace for one another with the varying viewpoints of how to respond to this virus; mask/no mask, sources of truly reliable information as to numbers and true impact of the virus, politics entering that whole discussion.”
Another pastor said: “My people are in very different places regarding the virus. Some are losing patience and want to get on with normal life with little regard for the potential consequences. Others are still practicing extreme social distancing and are having a tough time understanding others who are not taking this as seriously as they are.”
Another said: "People's attitudes have split very much on partisan lines. Half the church is opposed to any reopening. Half the church is frustrated that we haven't long since reopened.”
Additional concerns for church leaders related to frustration over the administering of pastoral care from a distance (17 per cent) and concerns about the safety of church members (13 per cent).
One expressed "frustration at not being able to minister to the sick, dying and have funeral/memorial services” while another said there was concern around people "dealing with losses when few people can gather to celebrate/mourn the loss".
“Connecting with people is still a struggle," another said. "It's tough to reach out to folks at the time they want - especially with hospitals still limiting visitors. Phone and Zoom ministry is soul-sucking in a way that in-person ministry is not."
Approximately nine per cent of respondents said they were feeling the pressure over “planning for return” while eight per cent said “church finances" were of troubling them. 34 per cent said that tithing was down in comparison to July of last year, with 13 per cent saying the drop was 50 per cent or more.
While 94 per cent of pastors said their churches "provided hand sanitiser, masks, or gloves to those needing it", just 35 per cent said they were requiring congregants to wear masks.