Monday, November 29, 2021

Tech in Churches During COVID-19 Research Project Publishes First Report

by Heidi A. Campbell, PhD

The following guest post was submitted by Dr. Heidi A. Campbell 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!

Tech in Churches During COVID-19 is a research project that specifically investigates the role that digital media has played within churches over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its aim is to reveal the technological decision-making process churches and their leaders have undergone during this unique time where religious communities were required to adapt and embrace digital media to continue functioning.

The project has released its first report When Pastors Put on the ‘Tech Hat’: How Churches Digitized During COVID-19. This research analyzes key themes emerging from 50 Tech Talk sessions with 478 church leaders hosted online by the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis, Indiana during 2020 and 2021. These sessions focused on pastors and leaders discussing their technology choices and use during the pandemic as they transitioned, often for the first time, into digital worship.

This research was conducted by a team associated with the Network of New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies under the direction of Dr. Heidi A Campbell, Professor of Communication and Presidential Impact Fellow at Texas A&M University. Together, their work presents and unpacks the central challenges and opportunities that many congregations identified as having to face in their digital media engagement during this time.

This report centers around key questions that help unpack different churches’ technology choices and the perceived and actual impacts of these choices. It also reveals key technological knowledge and skills that were required by churches and leaders to be successful in moving from traditional ways of doing church to online and hybrid forms. These key findings include:

• Of the many new “hats” pastors were required to add to their already full jobs, many felt the “tech hat” was the one they were least prepared to handle.

• Going online offered churches unexpected new opportunities to reach beyond their normal congregational and geographic limits (e.g., new places, old members, distant family).

• Church volunteers, along with staff, who were initially enthusiastic technology volunteers are now burned out and have often lost the desire to serve in these roles but many remain dedicated because they feel they must.

• The digital shift has challenged and changed pastors’ ideas about what the church is, should be, and how community connections are made and sustained.

These findings along with others are explored in greater detail in the full report. Overall, this research study reveals and unpacks both the struggles and successes many small, Midwest congregations have had to navigate over the past two years in order to keep their church alive and running during the COVID-19 pandemic.