Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Presentation: Stories of Hope & Resilience

In April, members of the EPIC team traveled to Chicago to present “Stories of Hope & Resilience: Exploring the Pandemic’s Congregational Challenges”  at the 2023 Religion Communicators Council/Associated Church Press annual Convention.

Principal Investigator Scott Thumma explained to the approximate 70 people in attendance, that three primary questions guide our work:

  1. How did congregations respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. What are the long-term consequences of COVID on congregational life in the U.S.?
  3. What does congregational life look like post-pandemic?

So far EPIC researchers have conducted three surveys exploring these issues and a fourth survey is in the field currently.

Results thus far have shown a high level of hope and optimism. Congregations seem willing to change to meet new challenges, claim they will emerge stronger than ever before, are thinking in new ways about vision and mission and have Identified and embraced new opportunities for ministry, explained Thumma.

He also noted other “silver linings” from the survey data. Those include embracing a new vision and new clientele, innovating rather than replicating the old patterns and collaborating and networking with other churches, social services, government and for-profits.

Co Investigator Allison Norton noted two hopeful themes from the data. First, she said, was COVID being a catalyst for change. Congregations found the pandemic to be an opportunity to refocus on what is important, particularly  in the formation of virtual spaces for worship, religious education, and community; creative building usage and new relationships with technology.

EPIC consultant Tracy Simmons shared some examples of this by highlighting stories about resilient congregations that have come out of the data. For example, some churches have found growth by moving – and staying – on an online-only format. In another instance, a church in Colorado grew their small group ministry during the pandemic.

Norton said another theme she noticed from the data was congregations finding new pathways to collaboration and partnership. Many churches, she explained, established interdenominational and interfaith partnerships and found ways to collaborate with civic leaders and health professionals.

Simmons gave the example of a church in New Jersey that has made over 100,000 sandwiches as a way to feed the hungry in their community. Multiple congregations, as well as a regional convenience store, has joined in the effort.