(RNS) — Sunday college and other Christian education programs have suffered in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, with half of congregations surveyed saying their programs have been disrupted.
A March 2022 survey by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research discovered that bigger churches with greater than 100 individuals have been extra profitable in sustaining their instructional programming for youngsters and youth, typically utilizing in-person or hybrid choices. Smaller churches, particularly these with 50 or fewer attendees, have been least more likely to say they continued non secular education with out disruption.
Scott Thumma, principal investigator of the Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations venture, stated the findings echoed considerations about normal education of schoolchildren, the place researchers have seen declines in studying during the last two years.
“My sense is that people knew what good robust Sunday school was or what a successful vacation Bible school was,” stated Thumma, drawing partly on open-ended feedback within the survey. “And they couldn’t parallel that using Zoom or using livestreaming or using take-home boxes of activities. It just wasn’t the same thing. And so when they evaluated it, it just didn’t measure up to what they previously knew as the standard of a good quality religious education program.”
The findings are the third installment within the five-year venture, a collaboration with 13 denominations from the Faith Communities Today cooperative partnership and institute staffers.
The new report, “Religious Education During the Pandemic: A Tale of Challenge and Creativity,” is predicated on responses from 615 congregations throughout 31 denominations.
Comparing knowledge from 2019, churches surveyed in March 2022 reported that the attendance of their non secular education programs had decreased a median of 30% amongst kids youthful than 13 and 40% amongst youth, ages 13-17.
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“Analysis showed that those who closed their programs had the greatest decline in involvement even after they restarted,” the brand new report states. “Likewise, churches that moved religious education online lost a higher percentage of participants than churches who modified their efforts with safety protocols but continued meeting in person either outdoors or in small groups.”
The report notes that it’s not shocking the smallest churches skilled probably the most disruption of their non secular education, given the decline in volunteer numbers and extra stresses on clergy in the course of the pandemic.
“In the smallest churches (1-50 attendees) pastors were most likely in charge of the religious education programs, while for those between 51 and 100 worshippers, volunteers bore the bulk of leadership responsibilities,” in accordance with the report.
Overall, evangelical churches reported experiencing the least disruption to their instructional programs, whereas mainline churches reported probably the most, adopted by Catholic and Orthodox congregations.
Vacation Bible college, lengthy a staple of congregational outreach to native communities, has additionally been shaken by COVID-19. More than a 3rd (36%) of churches provided such programs previous to the pandemic. That quantity decreased to 17% in 2020 and jumped again to 36% in the summertime of 2021. Slightly lower than a 3rd (31%) reported VBS plans for 2022.
While kids’s programming was enormously affected by congregational change in the course of the pandemic, grownup non secular programs noticed the smallest decreases in contrast with pre-pandemic ranges, with 1 / 4 rising since 2019 and an nearly equal share (23%) remaining even.
But, as with kids’s programs, churches with 50 or fewer worshippers noticed the best loss in grownup non secular education, whereas these with greater than 250 in worship attendance elevated their grownup programs by a median of 19%.
Some congregations reported transferring Sunday college actions to weeknights or trip Bible colleges from weekday mornings to later hours, with combined outcomes.
“One said they ‘went from a typical 200+ kids to about 35,’” the report notes, they usually “’shortened the number of days and moved VBS to the afternoon.’”
Thumma stated improvements together with intergenerational and kid-friendly programming helped maintain programs for individuals of all ages in some congregations. These included revamping of the kids’s message time throughout worship to be extra inclusive or older members greeting kids who run by throughout Zoom classes. Some churches known as their all-ages actions “messy church” or “Sunday Funday” as they used interactive instructional occasions.
“It becomes, out of necessity, intergenerational because that allows you to have robust energy and lots of people there,” he stated. “But it really is directed at the kids being involved in the life of the congregation in a way that isn’t, like, ‘OK, you go to your class’ and ‘you go to your classes,’ and the classes don’t ever mingle.”
Whether artistic steps equivalent to new intergenerational exercise will proceed stays to be seen, Thumma added.
“I think it should because that’s a valuable strategy,” he stated. “One of the things that we’ve seen in lots of our research is the more intergenerational the congregation is, the more it has a diversity of any degree, the more likely they are to be vital and thriving.”
The findings within the new report of the venture, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment, have an estimated total margin of error of plus or minus 4 share factors.
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