Epidemics can send shockwaves of panic and disorder through every industry. COVID-19, AKA The CoronaVirus, is presenting new challenges to pastors and church leaders worldwide. Hopefully you have a Coronoavirus response plan, and if you don’t, Northshore Church created a great one. Check it out HERE.

These guides from Tithe.ly also have great information about holding virtual church services, receiving digital contributions, and even serving communion online.

The Church Communications Facebook Group is filled with church communications experts sharing ideas and strategies.

I know you need quick help. I know you need to respond now.

But there will be long-lasting ramifications of this epidemic that churches need to consider.

This is not a “sound the alarm” post, but rather a step-back look at some of the trends you will be likely to see. The last 30 days are just the beginning of what will be a new reality for many churches over the next year.  

We want you to be prepared, not just for the next week or the next month, but for the next years of ministry in your community.  

Here are some trends I see continuing, and questions you need to be asking, well after the immediate effects of COVID-19 are over.

People will get used to watching online.

Some churches will introduce live-streaming or video capabilities for the first time.  Others will see an uptick in viewers as people are forced or choose to stay home.

And you know what? People will like it. They will realize it’s easier.  They may decide it’s quicker, safer, and almost the same as being there.

By the way, the data is also showing an uptick in e-commerce, as people are choosing to shop online for things they used to buy in stores.  Many will keep doing that, creating new patterns.

Ask: How are we going to address, connect, and engage our members online?

Attendance will be slow to recover.

Between realizing they enjoyed online services and the lingering fear of large gatherings, attendance will take a big hit. 

Even when the news quiets down, people will be slow to return to church services, and the lower attendance could carry through the rest of the year. It may be 2021 until attendance trends return to normal.

And of course, attendance affects volunteers, too.  

Ask: How are we going to cover the volunteer gaps and draw people back to services?

Giving will be slow to recover.

Giving doesn’t always track with attendance, but fewer participants usually means lower offerings. 

But in this case, the epidemic came with significant financial implications. We’ve officially dropped into a bear market, which means a 20%+ drop in the market.  Many businesses are struggling and will continue to struggle from the economic impact.  This means people will have less discretionary income. And since most people give to charity out of their discretionary income, we can expect that giving will be down.

Your church may see a 10-20% reduction in overall giving year over year.  As the market and economy will recover, church finances will follow. But it will take time.

Ask: How can we prepare now for a significant decrease in future giving?

Large conferences will take another hit.

We’ve already seen a shift in conference strategy, with boutique events emerging as preferred alternatives to large gatherings.

Some people will remain skeptical and cautious of large gatherings because of germs; others will realize they didn’t really miss out attending the conference that got cancelled. Not to mention that conferences and professional development  are often the first thing to go when church budgets are tightened. This will drive growth small or virtual experiences.

Ask: What conferences do we have coming up? Will we send people? If not, how can we continue training, equipping, and developing our staff and leaders?

People will see benefits in working from home.

So many companies introduced or doubled down on working from home. Most of those will love the freedom and efficiency, so we will see a nationwide uptick in virtual work as a preferred method.  

Remote work management and team collaboration software like Zoom, Slack, Trello, and Loom will begin to replace in-person meetings and communication.

Churches, who are slowly beginning to adopt this trend, will see even more benefits from it. 

Ask: What are some ways we can equip ourselves to function better virtually? 

Division will become more apparent.

An already divided country now has another topic to divide us. It’s not just race, politics, and religion; now you can add medicine to the mix.  Just look at the comments on any post and you’ll find 50% of people sounding the alarm and 50% of the people saying it’s no big deal.

If it wasn’t clear that we’re living in polarizing times, it will be now. Churches will continue to minister in this new reality, realizing they have congregations with wildly differing opinions.  

Ask: How can we communicate important messages to both ends of the spectrum?

At the end of the day, you are the light and the hope. In the darkest of times, the church shines like a beacon, carrying a message that everyone yearns and now realizes, they need to hear. 

Remember, the best plan is one that is written down. Write a plan, consider the potential scenarios, and love people well. In a season where it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with fear, lead with confidence and certainty.  Confidence that you’ve done the work to prepare, and certainty that you’ll show up no matter what.