The biggest question we continue to receive right now from congregations is “but what about during COVID?” It is a fair question and one we want to be able answer.
We have done quite a few things with data during COVID to ensure that we are giving all of our clients an accurate and usable snapshot of the vitality of their congregations. This has included adding four COVID questions to the basic Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) so that each congregation has an opportunity to get feedback about that specific topic. But, more importantly, it has included creating a separate generator that specifically benchmarks congregations taking the CAT during COVID against other congregations who have taken the CAT during COVID. This has allowed us to keep an eye on any unusual trends or concerns that we need to be aware of to assist churches.
At this point in time, our COVID data base is over 400 churches. Our overall CAT database is 2,600 churches we have worked with in the last 6 years. When we do a comparative analysis of benchmarking any particular church’s data the shift is very, very small. To date, the biggest changes are typically in hospitality and spiritual vitality. A church that might score at a 34% in the larger database will score around 36% in the COVID database. Likewise, a spiritual vitality index in the CAT database might score around 23% but in the COVID database will score at a 26%. This shift has been trending since September (2020) and seems to indicate that lower scores of hospitality and spiritual vitality are becoming more average so more typical. The biggest change we have seen in any one index has been + or – 8%, the lowest has been 0% or no change.
The other change is that the priority that states that congregations would like more opportunities to create meaningful relationships is moving higher in the priority list than we have seen before. Simply stated, people are longing for connection.
One of the reasons that we closed the business at the beginning of COVID was to get a handle on how internal congregational health was shifting during this time. What we are finding is that the answer is not a whole lot is changing. What congregations took with them into COVID they still have. This means that if it was a heavily conflicted church with trust in leadership concerns, that is likely still the case. If they were a transformational church that had exceptional worship then, in more cases then not, they are still that congregation. There will always be exceptions but overall this is the story.
The data is clear that COVID is not the reason why congregations are where they are. It is certainly a new hurdle but one that congregations can meet head-on with creative and adaptable solutions. If we truly are committed to creating vital congregations we need to continue to push congregations out of the story they tell themselves about themselves. We need to help them see the their true story so they can become what God envisions for them.
Emily Swanson is the owner and President of Holy Cow! Consulting. She specializes in strategic planning and transitional work for congregations.