The news media have a huge responsibility to report right now on both the raging health dangers and the economic damage caused by The Great Lockdown.
However, “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” will — someday — be mere bad memories and America will be able to fully assess the carnage. And, meanwhile, if there’s anything that should send people down on their knees in prayer it’s COVID-19.
But with few exceptions, Americans can only do this as individuals and families because of the massive halt of worship services. Here’s an arresting thought from political scientist Ryan Burge: “This coming weekend may represent the fewest people engaging in corporate worship in the last two millennia.”
David Crary of The Associated Press (a former reporting team colleague of mine) has taken an early look at what religion is facing.
The bottom line: America’s churches “are bracing for a painful drop in weekly contributions and possible cutbacks in program and staff.”
It’s not too soon for American religion, and thus religion writers, to carefully consider not only this month’s ministry challenges but whether after this emergency ends online worship may substantially undercut in-person attendance, and whether contributions will be able to rebound.
Regarding attendance, the aforementioned Burge looks at past data to predict that folks who never attend worship now are unlikely to return after this crisis. Nor are faithful attenders going to fade away. He recommends that Virus Era pastors pay special attention to reassuring and helping those in the middle, the occasional attenders who might step up participation.