Paul L. Caron

Sunday, October 24, 2021

WSJ Op-Ed: Are Internet Services As Good As Church?

Following up on my previous post, What We Lose When We Livestream Church:  Wall Street Journal op-ed:  Are Internet Services as Good as Church?, by Paul Glader & John Semakula:

Last year Pastors Henry Fuhrman and Jerry O’Sullivan of Shelter Rock Church in Nassau County, N.Y., began working as TV preachers. For months they livestreamed sermons as Covid-19 ravaged the leafy communities of Long Island, where their church has several campuses. After overcoming the hurdles of digital worship, they now have a new problem: how to wean the congregation off the convenience of online church.

They aren’t alone. Seventy-five percent of evangelical Protestants in the U.S. have attended church online during the pandemic, according to a recent survey by Infinity Concepts and Grey Matter Research. “We found that 45% of those who experienced online church services now believe that worship online is equal or superior to the in-person experience,” said Mark Dreistadt, president and founder of Infinity Concepts. Only 44% want to return exclusively to in-person worship, according to the report, which surveyed more than 1,000 evangelical Protestants.

Although Pew Research found in April 2020 that a quarter of U.S. adults said their faith had become stronger because of the pandemic, some pastors are skeptical about the long-run effects of online worship. “People tend to try to multitask when they are watching online. The result is that they are not focused on God or the worship at times,” says Mr. O’Sullivan, a pastor of the Shelter Rock campus in Syosset, N.Y. “We are trying to keep them engaged.”

The Infinity Concepts report also found that many American evangelicals used the pandemic lockdowns to “digitally visit” new churches—another cause for concern among some pastors. “One has to wonder whether this will ultimately lead to church nomads, who surf the internet for new church experiences rather than putting down roots and becoming part of a church community,” Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter, says. ...

Shelter Rock on Long Island ultimately hired an online pastor who could reach out to people in new ways and minister to church members who are struggling during the pandemic because they lacked encouragement, accountability and community. This past Sunday, Shelter Rock’s overall attendance of 2,300 was 40% higher than pre-pandemic levels, matching indicators that the church grew significantly during the pandemic.

“We have no plans of getting rid of online church,” Mr. Fuhrman says. “We are reaching people we couldn’t reach before. I think it’s the new front door.”

Religion Unplugged, Pastors Question Whether To Unplug From Online Services When The Pandemic Ends (Paul Glader & John Semakula)

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