Survey: Clergy are Tired, But Embracing Innovation

Survey: Clergy are Tired, But Embracing Innovation

The Conference recently conducted a wide-ranging survey of churches, in which 260 churches participated. This is the second article in a series looking at the results, and focuses on how clergy are doing during this time. The first article looked at the financial situation of churches.

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

How are our clergy doing with the new demands of their work during this COVID-19 experience?  The survey offered clergy several options, and they could check as many as applied.  And they could add their own responses in the comment section.    

Many of our respondents noted that they could have checked all the boxes.  Some actually did check them all. 

This demonstrates that clergy responses to the demands are complex and multilayered.   

In particular, the strain of the current moment is indicated by the fact that some 182 of our 255 respondents (71%) answered either “I’m exhausted”, “it has been strenuous”, or both.  Only 10 of our 73 seasonally tired folk (“I’m always tired after Easter”  did not select one of the other tired indicators. 

Happily, our clergy seem to be well equipped for this moment.  The first three options demonstrate the opportunity that many see in this moment.  Some name themselves as equipped for crisis in general.  Others find creativity in the moment; others find that the opportunity to experiment is satisfying.  Fully 76% of clergy responded with one or more of these first three indicators of innovation.  On the flip side, and of pastoral concern, is the 24% who are neither good in crisis nor finding the creative or experimental boon.   

About two months in, 55 percent of our respondents said they are “getting the hang of it.”  A sense of the routine helps us to use less brain power to produce results.  As more clergy experience the (temporary or new?) normalization of the use of new skills, the levels of exhaustion should decrease. 

The comments section of the survey were combed for themes (coded) to discover what our church professionals would tell us apart from specific prompting. Fifty-two mentioned creativity, gratitude or blessing, with comments such as: The church has stepped up in amazing ways, and My congregation is flexible and supportive.  Thirty-three chose to add shading to the tiredness with comments such as Very hard to find the off switch and Whole situation is draining, and, Exhausted, need to do a better job with self-care.  A few mentioned the drain of Zoom and other online meetings.   

Comments about personal challenges further help us to comprehend the challenge many clergy are facing.  Personal matters impacting clergy include the death of parent, grief, birth of a child, family COVID-19 disease without and with hospitalization, homeschooling children or grandchildren, members of family in health professions, living solo, impending family lay-offs, personal health issues, and needing to postpone retirement.  Our regional staff have paid close attention to these comments in order to reach out appropriately and assess what support might be useful.   

The survey also asked for people to simply comment (no multiple choice option) about what lessons they are learning.  A large number named the importance of continuing an online presence for the church after Covid.  There is no going back, wrote one respondent. I think this has generational impact that we are just starting to think about.  Another put it this way:  Virtual community is real community.  It is not enough to record an in-person service and place it online. There Is a population who are seeking virtual community and connections.  It is its own thing. 

Along with this was a realization that learning and equipping the congregation with new technical skills will continue to be important:  Tech care is pastoral care,  wrote one.  Another noted: We are planning to hire what we are calling a “media production assistant” part time.

The “fill in the blank” section with the prompt “how can we (the SNE Conference Staff) Help” supports the finding above with requests for online worship content and resources and tech support among the specific asks.
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