Texas A&M University released a new report on how congregations relied on technology to handle worship services and keep the doors open virtually.

What Texas A&M Professor Heidi Campbell and her team found was that pastors seemed frustrated and exhausted when explaining the difficulties that arose from both conceptualizing and fostering online community.

The research relied on the grant making of Indianapolis-based Center for Congregations, which supported 2,700 congregations across Indiana in 2020 and 2021. The group provided $5000 ‘Connect Through Tech’ grants to congregations for the purchase of digital equipment to livestream or record church services. The group hosted a series of Tech Talks in the fall of 2020 and spring 2021 that totaled 478 congregational attendees.

“A lot of churches found because of the health and safety guidelines that their only option to meet was in a mediated format,” Campbell said in a statement. “A lot of leaders for decades had been avoiding or not paying attention to digital media as a resource, and had to get a crash course in using the internet for religious purposes.”

The issues were many. She said that the responsibility of keeping services running during the pandemic was the sole responsibility of a pastor or minister, a church secretary or volunteer. The report said that many pastors found that the shift online just created more duties, tasks and frustrations for them as many had to navigate the shift by themselves including setting up video equipment and handling live streaming of worship services.

While a third of the leaders said that the use of digital technologies to hold services was a temporary solution. Yet, two thirds said they are exploring ways to use this technology in the long term. Researchers said many turned to Facebook for its built-in livestreaming services and some chose to record and upload worship services to YouTube. Zoom was the third dominant platform used.

In addition to the challenges of navigating technology and helping older members handle new technology, another consistent theme was regarding purchasing copyright for their worship services. In uploading sermons onto Facebook or YouTube, leaders wondered if they needed copyright licensing for music.

Lastly, one of the key findings was that despite the fact that more could worship online from across the U.S., that some church members found that they had lost the sense of community in online worship. 

“A lot of pastors who were seeing people leaving the church prior to the pandemic, saw that they can still connect to some of those who would drift away through online means by providing another alternative to connect,” Campbell said in a statement. “This becomes another tool in a pastor’s ministry toolbox.”

Susan Barreto
Susan Barreto

Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.

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