Churches in the U.S have experienced declining membership for two decades, but COVID-19 could be what finally forces worship centers into the digital age.
“COVID-19 has really accelerated trends that were already there,” said Mark Weigt, Lead Pastor at The Ridge Community Church in Greenfield. “People were coming to church less.”
Americans may not be attending church as often, but more are starting to engage digitally, according to Weigt. The Ridge had seen a desire for digital church services even before the pandemic.
“We had already started down this trail of a ‘digital church,'” he explained. “We call it a ‘Digital Campus.’ Everything we do physically, we want to do digitally.”
The church has now taken the next step by building a digital online studio.
“We’re seeing the ability to connect with such a wider audience through the digital platform,” Weigt said. “We’re growing digitally. We think it is here to stay.”
It’s not just the Ridge seeing an increase in digital engagement. Other worship centers are noticing similar numbers.
“Synagogues are reporting more participation online,” said Rabbi Hannah Wallick, of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. “I have a small congregation in Appleton and we have people attending services from Minneapolis and Washington D.C.”
Wallick agreed that online services will need to continue, once the pandemic is over.
“Even when we go back to pre-pandemic times, we’ll need to create an online option,” she said.
The Ridge Community Church is planning both in-person and online services this Christmas Eve. The digital services will be tailored for the online parishonerd, according to Weigt. The pastor’s advice to other churches: Don’t be afraid to “lean into the digital movement.”
“This Christmas Eve is going to be very unique,” he said. “For many people, (online services) will be their first entry point into churches.”
“We believe it’s here to stay.”