Our spiritual lives are being disrupted by COVID-19, just as our personal and professional lives are.
“After three days without sports, I noticed a woman sitting on my sofa. She was nice. Then, I realized that she was my wife.”
We all need some humor during this challenging time in human history. I believe the little witticism above illustrates an actual truth being realized in households around the world, as families are forced to stay close to home and reacquaint themselves with each other.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting people’s personal lives on six of the seven continents. COVID-19 is also affecting the economy and many specific industries. The airline industry, for example, has collectively seen 40 to 50 percent of fleet grounded. The cruise industry is barely afloat, so to speak. Disney theme parks have placed Mickey Mouse in quarantine. Broadway theaters are keeping their curtains closed. Sports teams across the world are leaving the field court and stadium. The beloved NAB Show has been canceled, as countless other conventions and shows have been. And, K-12 schools and universities are sending students home, transitioning to a remote-learning model.
COVID-19 is also affecting houses of worship (HoWs) around the world. In Europe, most HoWs are not conducting worship services because national governments have banned large gatherings. Likewise, here in the US, numerous HoWs have suspended worship services due to government orders, declared states of emergency and related decrees to forbid large gatherings. Leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church, canceled all gatherings worldwide. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott under a declared state of emergency, limited gatherings to a maximum of 500 people. Respecting the governor’s declaration, Lakewood Church in Houston TX, which boasts 52,000 congregants, canceled its weekly services. Other large churches in Texas have decided to host services, but, in deference to the governor’s order, they’re hosting multiple services with a strict limit of 500 attendees per site.
As of this writing on March 16, not every state government has taken action to limit people as regards their worship-service attendance. However, even in cases in which there hasn’t been a government decree, a significant number of HoWs have proactively canceled their worship services; meanwhile, many other HoWs continue to host services with little or no modification apart from enhanced cleaning. HoW leaders who are choosing to keep their facilities open are having them cleaned to something approaching an “operating room” level of cleanliness and disinfection. They’re also instructing people to stay home if they’re sick, or if they just feel uneasy being around people during the COVID-19 crisis. In many cases, they inform congregants that they can participate in worship online via Facebook Live or YouTube, or by visiting the HoW’s website.
I believe that, as a result of HOWs canceling worship services, governments limiting the size of worship gatherings, people feeling uneasy about attending worship with other people and services being moved online, we’ll see major developments— both positive and negative—in the HoW market and in our industry broadly. Let’s review a few of them.
First, many HoWs in the US already have an online presence. A significant number of HoWs produce a nice online worship experience; for other HoWs, the online worship experience is less than ideal. Those in the latter category sometimes set up an iPhone, iPad or other mobile device to livestream the worship experience. The video tends to look poor and the audio usually sounds bad. Thus, I feel certain that many HoWs that have not previously taken the online experience seriously will now begin to seek solutions from AV professionals, thereby enabling them develop a credible online presence. I feel certain about this because, in the past 15 days, my phone has been ringing nonstop with pastors asking me to help them purchase equipment and get set up to create a high-quality online experience. That way, these good pastors can remain in contact with congregants and future church members.
Second, although online-gear purchases are heating up, COVID-19 has the potential to slow down investments related to physical worship facilities. Leaders might feel uneasy about spending when they’re not sure whether donations from congregants can be maintained during the crisis. At the same time, I have spoken to other pastors who want to make upgrades now—while facilities are essentially empty—on the belief that, when the virus subsides, people will be eager to get out of their homes and return to worship services.
Third, COVID-19 has slowed down shipments from Asia. My group has had a few weeks of “hearing crickets” from our primary provider of videowalls. We are grateful that, although we have not been able to communicate with China, the orders that we made before the virus pandemic became official are now arriving. However, even so, we are uncertain about the supply chain. We can only hope the flow of cargo is minimally interrupted.
Fourth, I expect to see online giving modules and portals increase significantly. There are two primary reasons: 1) If people are not attending worship services physically, HoW leaders hope they will donate online; 2) some people will feel uneasy touching money, fearing that it might be contaminated with the virus.
Certainly, COVID-19 will affect HoWs in many more ways. Medical experts have observed that people with weak immune systems or of advanced ages can suffer substantially—even die—from the virus. Similarly, and unfortunately, HoWs that are weak might not survive the impact of this virus if it lasts very long. However, I believe that HoWs that were healthy before the virus will again function well after it passes. What’s more, they’ll continue to expand their use of media technologies to share their faith.
We have a chance to serve HoW leaders right now. Those of us who want to serve others will create solutions that will help worship leaders communicate with their congregants more effectively than ever, both in person and online. My faith leads me to believe that the lifestyle changes we’re making in response to COVID-19 provide humanity an opportunity to emerge from this pandemic better. All we have to do is choose to be better people and serve others. Prayer helps.
That is what I believe. Please tell me what you believe.
To read more articles about the House of Worship (HoW) sector of AV, click here.