Churches Partnering More in Service; Less in Worship

Churches Partnering More in Service; Less in Worship

The Conference recently conducted a wide-ranging survey of churches, in which 260 churches participated. This is the fourth article in a series looking at the results, and  looks at how churches have been partnering with others to respond to the crisis.
The first article looked at the financial situation of churches.
The second looked at how clergy are faring.
The third looked at how churches have managed in moving worship and other ministries online

Susan Townsley, Associate Conference Minister for Innovation, Leadership & Change offers the following analysis of this section of data:

COVID-19 has meant real challenges for the feeding programs many of our churches support.  It is no surprise that when we asked about the partnerships that churches are developing, the most frequently selected among the multiple choice was community organizations, and the ones most named in the comments were those that address food insecurity.   

It is unclear whether these partnerships were completely new or were new efforts within established relationships.   In many cases respondents noted we are deepening our relationship to, or we have increased our support of nearby agencies.  It is clear that our churches take their mission to the well being of local communities extremely seriously.  Universally, our respondents noted that food pantries and prepared community meals were experiencing increased demands.

A number of churches were engaged in new face mask ministries as well.  A few churches were supporting childcare for essential workers. A few other creative endeavors mentioned:
  • We have hired a Street Outreach Worker to go out and minister among the unhoused, offering prayer, friendship and referrals 
  • We are providing face masks to partner restaurants who have assisted us with fund raisers and special events 
  • We are delivering cards and masks to local hospitals and nursing homes 
  • We are working with a newly formed local community aid group. 
Partnerships with other churches were mentioned less frequently.   
  • Area clergy are collaborating to support the hospital with chaplains 
  • Recently one of the pastors of the local Assemblies of God has connected with our clergy association. She is the first of their staff to ever show an interest in connecting with us. 
  • Joint Palm Sunday service with Episcopal and UUA church 
  • Relationships with other churches and emergency services are deepening. 
Only a few churches noted worship partnerships. This may reflect that the survey was taken relatively early in the stay home orders.  We expect to see, indeed the Southern New England Conference would encourage, churches developing worship partnerships in order to support one another as the production of worship gets wearing, and as clergy are in need of vacation time during the summer months. Only 1% of our respondents named sharing bible study.  To be sure, these groups can be highly relational, and it may take clergy a while to see how to develop mutually beneficial models of resourcing such groups.
When asked about the impact of their ministries (a comment only question), again, feeding programs were mentioned more than anything else, with 42 respondents naming them as a key impact.  Second most frequently named impact was fostering the human connection.  Many clergy named the caring and outreach as essential parts of their ministries right now. Many had developed or strengthened intra-church ministries where each member is receiving some form of contact, communication, or prayer.  Visibility in the community was also noted by 13 respondents: 
  • We are adding new banners and thank you’s and increasing our involvement in social media. 
  • We have increased our card ministry to include hospital workers, first responders and grocery store employees 
  • Our church sign message has twice made the local papers 
Of note are these comments regarding impacts:  
  • The crisis has exposed a number of hard truths regarding the age of the congregation and the lack of energy and ability to engage in conversations to work together to navigate these challenging and uncertain times 
  • The privilege in our community extends to pandemics 
  • The congregation is finally starting to get the fact that the deacons are in fact ministers and starting to call on them, ask them or what they need, and not just contact me.  The deacons feel empowered and the congregation is starting to grasp the reality that we are all in ministry together. 
As when asked to comment on these impacts, respondents noted that online worship is, in itself, impactful.  The medium has particular benefits that our respondents name as worth continuing: 
  • People are increasingly willing to share about their faith with one another through some platforms we are experimenting with (blog, social media). Testimony is on the rise now that it does not involve public speaking. 
  • Gone are the days when folk are unable to come to church because their bodies cannot handle the pain of sitting in our uncomfortable pews, they’re sick recovering from treatments at home, in the hospital, mental illness is getting in the way, the roads are too slick, the service takes place in the evening and I won’t drive, or folk going home because they can’t find a parking spot close enough to the church.   
  • It's been a wonderful opportunity for people to try our church without being a strange person in a strange church.   
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