Wednesday, March 2, 2022

How Pastors Became Entrepreneurs by Engaging Technology During the Pandemic

by Sophia Osteen

The following guest post was submitted by Sophia Osteen of the Network of New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies, one of our collaborating organizations. Interested in submitting your research to be featured? Learn more and contact us!

The Tech in Churches During COVID-19 research project recently released its second tech trend paper, which reveals how the engagement of church leaders with technology during the pandemic pushed them to develop not only new technology skills, but character traits. “Embracing Pastoral Entrepreneurship During the Pandemic: Traits to be an Effective Digital Pastor” explores key traits pastors identified as essential for successfully making the transition online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, most of these valued traits are those typically associated with entrepreneurship, rather than a pastoral role.

“Embracing Pastoral Entrepreneurship During the Pandemic” is second in a series of papers where the Tech in Churches During COVID-19 project explores in-depth research findings about the impact that technology engagement is having on churches. Funded by the Lilly Endowment and using data provided by the Center for Congregations and their Connect Through Grant program, the project studies 2,700 congregations in Indiana that received funds to purchase technology equipment to help move their services online. This research was conducted by a team associated with the Network of New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies. This paper specifically draws on findings from “Tech Talks” hosted by the Center for Congregations in fall 2020 and spring 2021 that asked church leaders who received grants to reflect on the successes and challenges that they faced in adopting new technologies.

In “Embracing Pastoral Entrepreneurship During the Pandemic” five essential traits are discussed, which were identified by pastors as important for making the digital transition.  These include the: 1) a willingness to experiment, 2) flexibility and adaptive responses, 3) creative thinking and innovative action, 4) tenacity and dedication to the job, and finally, 5) resourcefulness and strategic decision-making. Constant changes to health and safety guidelines and restrictions meant pastors had to adapt quickly in a variety of areas, but many found technological changes to be the most challenging. 

This research found that most pastors, after accepting the online reality that the pandemic brought, were willing to experiment and consider the options for technology use to keep church services going. Church leaders that felt unprepared or inexperienced in using digital media were better able to adapt to the shift when they were willing to brainstorm new ways of “doing church.” Pastors and church leaders also embraced flexibility and adaptability when working with digital technologies. They had to adapt to the ever-changing health and safety guidelines and learn to be ready to change their plans as new circumstances and opportunities emerged. For many, this meant rapid transitions and improvised aspects of church services and events.

The result of taking on these entrepreneurial traits had several effects, which included learning to embrace new, sometimes uncomfortable character traits, navigating feelings of being unprepared and overwhelmed with required changes while adapting to technology experimentation, and learning how to do this innovation in solitude, while trying to find resources and help in making the move to digital worship. Overall, this paper explores how pastors were required to take on new roles that are not typically required of them or emphasized as within the realm of a pastor’s job. As the COVID-19 pandemic thrust pastors into cultivating or drawing on different characteristics such as risk-taking and dynamic adaptability, we can see that the pandemic called church leaders to take on the role of an “entrepreneur,” which was one many felt uncomfortable with. More information regarding these findings and the five key traits are detailed in the full paper available here.