Last month, we invited the congregation to participate in a Pandemic Engagement Survey, in hopes of evaluating how we’re doing as a church serving the spiritual needs of our community, and how we might continue to adjust and experiment in the days (weeks, months, years?) ahead.
We received 78 responses, and lots of thoughtful feedback – which we are still in the process of digesting and responding to. The responses have been reviewed in confidence by members of the staff and have or will be shared in abridged, anonymous form with various leadership ministries (i.e. Worship and Spiritual Life, Long Range Planning, etc.). The community feedback will be taken into careful consideration as pandemic life and public health information unfold, and we may utilize a similar survey tool in the future, as the landscape of COVID risk proves ever-changing.
In summary, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive in terms of how we are generally meeting needs as a faith community in this difficult time. Many people reflected with gratitude on the flexible accessibility of online worship (you can watch anytime!), as well as online worship’s creativity and personal nature. People shared special appreciation for hearing from a variety of voices. Many appreciated the Daily Digital Divine videos we ran for the first three months of pandemic, as well as the Zoom After Party and other small group gatherings.
While we are a resilient bunch, folks also shared honestly that they are personally struggling in many ways. In this way, the survey confirmed adamantly that no one is alone in these struggles. In response to the question, “How have you been personally affected by the current coronavirus pandemic?” the far and away largest response was “My own mental health affected,” (49%), followed by “family members’/friends’ health affected” (31%) and “struggling to balance childcare and work” (10%).
Of note, 70% of respondents reported participating in the life of First Church either the same or more frequently during pandemic times than beforehand. This matches the higher attendance number trends we’ve been seeing with virtual Sunday worship (while our live numbers may track as similar to pre-pandemic in-person numbers, by Tuesday morning, we often have 300-500+ worship views across platforms).
At the same time, people are of course longing for the warmth, intimacy, and full-sensory spiritual experience of being together in person. We are especially missing: hugs, intergenerational engagement, singing together and live music, and the deep reverence that physical presence and sacred architecture brings (as one respondent memorably put it, the “sun angling through the windows onto the people gathered”).
Perhaps surprisingly, 68% of respondents shared that they were either Somewhat or Extremely eager to return to in-person worship in some form (note, this was also over a month ago, before the recent surge in COVID cases locally and nationally). However, in the very next question, the vast majority of folks expressed significant reluctance at gathering for indoor worship in some capacity at any point in the near future (even with masks and physical distancing requirements being observed). Interest in outdoor worship of some kind was more positive, but still quite a spread of comfort levels. While the Staff and leadership of the church is considering experimenting with small, outdoor gatherings at some point — we are in no rush to gather in person and recognize it may be a long while before we do so. Our longing to be together is strong, but the survey underlines the obvious: our longing to keep one another safe and well is stronger.
The majority of respondents also said they’d be willing to help First Church share our message more widely by either 1. Inviting a friend to online worship, 2. Sharing a link to worship or other programming, and/or 3. Rating/reviewing the church on Facebook and/or Yelp. If that’s you, please take a moment to make good on that willingness! Clearly the need for spiritual nourishment these days is great and widespread — we would encourage everyone to use whatever technology or means they prefer to invite someone to check out our worship or other ministry offerings.
Sincere thanks to all who contributed to this process! Did you miss a chance to fill out the survey or share feedback? You can always reach out directly to your pastors or other staff members/ lay leaders to share how you’ve been impacted by the pandemic, how online church is working for you, or how else we might be and grow as the body of Christ together in the uncertain days ahead.
-Pastor Kit, on behalf of the staff