Home Christian News Most Congregations Are Doing All Right During COVID-19. But the Future Is...

Most Congregations Are Doing All Right During COVID-19. But the Future Is Uncertain.

At Memorial Road Church of Christ, a megachurch in Edmond, Oklahoma, church members gave about $165,000 for COVID-19 relief. Those funds help pay rent or mortgages, buy food and pay for other expenses for those who’ve been affected by the economic downturn.

They also gave more than a half million dollars at their annual mission drive in September. Giving to the operating budget is down a bit, but a payroll protection loan helped on those costs, said Andy Lashley, a church spokesman.

While the financial picture appears to be positive, many churches are still empty. According to the Lake Institute study, congregations were split about returning to meeting in person, with half (53%) saying they planned to begin in-person gatherings by the end of August. Fourteen percent expected to meet in September or later. A third were not sure when they would meet.

Catholic congregations were among “the last to close and the first to reopen in-person” services, according to the study. Conservative congregations (71%) were more likely to say they planned to reopen by August than liberal (20%) or moderate (49%) congregations.

The Rev. Charlie Dates, pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, said his congregation has no plans to meet in person for the foreseeable future. The church moved services online in April, after the death of Edward Singleton, a beloved church member and Chicago firefighter in his 50s.

Singleton’s death hit the church hard.

“That was a bell tolling in our church,” Dates said. “We have had a slew of deaths. There are just a lot of grieving people.”

But the lack of in-person meetings hasn’t dampened members’ commitment to the church’s mission. On Wednesday (Sept. 30), Dates was waiting for a weekly delivery of 1,200 boxes of food for the church to distribute to neighbors in need. The church is in the process of acquiring a food truck that will help in that process.

“Right now people have to come to us to get the food,” he said. “We want to make it so we come to them.” Current plans call to stay online at least through Easter of 2021.  Part of that is the health care challenges that his congregants face. Not everyone in their community has access to health care or regular medical treatment. So church members may have underlying conditions that they are not aware of. Those underlying conditions could be life-threatening if church members get COVID-19.

“To bring them into a community at risk is not something that we want to do,” he said.

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Bob Smietana is an award-winning religion reporter and editor who has spent two decades producing breaking news, data journalism, investigative reporting, profiles and features for magazines, newspapers, trade publications and websites. Most notably, he has served as a senior writer for Facts & Trends, senior editor of Christianity Today, religion writer at The Tennessean, correspondent for RNS and contributor to OnFaith, USA Today and The Washington Post.