A survey among pastors also finds that Christian communities had more chances to connect with new people. Church leaders are still feeling exhausted.
Clashes between church members over the Covid-19 pandemic led to crises in many evangelical churches, but most sought for solutions to help reconcile those with opposing views, shows a survey conducted in Switzerland.
The Swiss Evangelical Alliance (SEA) received answers from 343 pastors and other Christian ministers in what was the second round of a survey that asked about the positive and negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on Christian communities.
In responses collected in July and August 2022, half (49%) said their churches have experienced “tensions in the community regarding the trustworthiness of diverse informations about the pandemic”, and another 44% witnessed internal tensions “because of different interpretations of the crisis”.
According to those interviewed, most of these conflicts happened among members of the church communities (42%), but there were also tensions between church members and the leadership (22%), as well as among leadership teams (12%) and church federations or denominations (8%).
Many of these internal tensions were caused by the exceptional situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the response of government (including the strong restrictions that affected the life of all church communities).
However, the report also found that “several answers express that developments in recent years cannot be attributed to the pandemic alone. Tensions had already existed before, albeit on other issues, and the crisis had only made visible or intensified what was already latent”, says the SEA.
How did the churches respond to these tensions? Examples of those who responded were the planning of “reconciliation services”, a stronger emphasis on reconciliation in the preaching, and church forums in which specific hot topics could be discussed. A small minority of churches even sought professional help from outside the church to help solve the seemingly irreconcilable internal crisis.
A majority of 63% says new people have discovered their church community during the pandemic.
Another 61% says small Bible study or home groups have been strengthened since 2020.
A majority of pastors believes people in their church have grown in solidarity and unity and think the pandemic has strengthened the faith of most churchgoers.
In contrast, only 3 in 10 have seen an increase in evangelistic activities or an increase in financial giving.
60% say the church attendance has remained stable, 15% say it has increased while 20% say it has decreased.
Before the pandemic, only 5% of churches streamed their Sunday services online. Now, 40% continue to do so, despite the restrictions have disappeared. Around 30% went another way and stopped sharing worship services online as the situation returned to normality.
Other new ways of communicating mentioned by survey respondents include: online prayer meetings, online planning meetings, more contents made public online for free (preachings, written materials) and a general improvement in communication (including newsletters, use of social media, church apps, etc).
[title]Help in resolving church tensions
“Unprocessed conflicts often erupt again in the next crisis. Reconciliation makes us fit for the future”, says SEA General Secretary Andi Bachmann-Roth. To support churches in this process, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance has commissioned two experts to develop a guide. It offers decision-making aids on the way to reconciliation.
The two authors, Anaël Jambers and Marcus Weiand, first define what they understand by reconciliation and what steps are needed before reconciliation can take place. They go on to explain three stages in the escalation of a conflict, on the basis of which the congregations can take stock of the situation and deduce which way of dealing with the conflict makes sense. Anyone who comes to the conclusion that they would like to call in an external expert will also find corresponding recommendations in the guide. “Conflicts in families and faith communities are completely normal. It is possible and desirable to deal with them proactively and well. Trained professionals can help with this”, says mediator Anaël Jambers.
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