Impact of COVID-19 on US Orthodox Christian Parishes

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Source: Faith Communities Today

by Sarah Brown

Originally published on May 19, 2020

Two studies have been conducted over the past month and a half in an effort to assess the impact of COVID-19 on American Orthodox Christian Churches. Both are summarized below, with links to the full reports for detailed findings.

Phase 1

The following summary is extracted from the “Orthodox Parish Life Study,” which is being undertaken as part of the larger Faith Communities Today 2020 study. This portion of the study was conducted online between April 6 and 13, 2020 (just prior to Easter) and is based on 87 responses.

“As the pastor, I feel that the pandemic and the resulting home confinement of the members have resulted in a renewed hunger for prayer, worship and receiving the Sacraments. So, in a sense, the crisis has forced a cell-like experience of the faithful which will hopefully result in more faithful attendance at the divine services and more active participation in parish life by the members once the Coronavirus has abated.” – A comment shared by a parish priest in the Antiochian Archdiocese

How Parishes Are Adapting

Nearly half of respondents (47%) indicated that because of the pandemic, they began live-streaming services or posting them online. 31% shared that while they have continued to conduct services in the church, only clergy are present and no online streaming is offered. 14% already live-streamed online services or posted recordings of services online prior to the pandemic and continue to do so now. Only 8% have cancelled services altogether.

Challenges to Online Worship

The major obstacles to online worship in US Orthodox parishes, as expressed by respondents, are involving members who are not digitally connected or computer savvy (30%) and having access to the necessary technology (19%) . Of lesser challenge, but still noted as “moderate obstacles” are generating interest in attendance of online services (40%), the priest’s limited understanding and command of technology (27%), affording the cost of the necessary technology (21%), and poor sound or video quality (21%).

Financial Impact

US Orthodox parishes are facing a degree of financial uncertainty during the pandemic, but overall appear sufficiently poised to handle the crisis financially for at least several more months. Just under half (48%) indicated that they have sufficient finances to carry them through the summer, while 30% noted that finances are tight, but they can manage by reducing some expenses and making minor budget changes. A smaller percentage demonstrated a starker outlook, with 12% likely to make significant budget cuts and 9% likely to make significant funding changes. Only 1% felt they might not survive the crisis.

For a more comprehensive look at the findings of this study, please visit the links below.

Phase 2

The key findings below are extracted from “The Pandemic and American Orthodox Christian Parishes” study, which was conducted online between May 4 and 9, 2020 and is based on 234 responses. Among the many unique findings of this more in-depth follow-up survey were:

Current Worship Situation

Between early April and early May, the percentage of US Orthodox parishes live-streaming or posting their services online increased from 47% to 64%. Combined with the churches that were already live-streaming services prior to the pandemic, a total of 77% of parishes currently offer online worship. A significant portion of clergy also indicated that they are using videoconferencing software, e.g. Zoom, instead of or in addition to live-streaming in an effort to create a more engaging experience.

Online Attendance

While methods of measurement for online attendance vary by congregation, the majority of respondents (44%) perceived their current online attendance to be higher than in-person attendance prior to the pandemic. A smaller percentage (24%) indicated that their online attendance is about the same as their in-person attendance prior to the pandemic, while 21% noted that it is lower, and 11% were unsure or unable to directly compare attendance.

Future Worship Plans

At the time surveyed, only half of parishes (53%) planned to resume in-person services as soon as legally possible, with 22% saying they plan to change or significantly alter what they are doing now, 16% planning to continue as they are now, and 5% unsure. When asked if they plan to continue offering online services after in-person services resume, just under half (46%) said yes . The remaining portion were split evenly between no (27%) and unsure (27%).

For a more comprehensive look at the findings of this study, please visit the link below.

Please direct questions to:
Alexei Krindatch, National Coordinator, Second Census of US Orthodox Churches / 2020 US Religion Census

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Tracking the Religious Response to the Pandemic – Faith Communities Today

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