The future of churches as states reopen

NOW: The future of churches as states reopen


MISHAWAKA, Ind. - Under Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s new executive order churches across the state are allowed to reopen and hold in-person services as of last Friday, May 8th.

While many are relieved to be able to go back, others are still concerned about spreading the coronavirus.

ABC 57 is taking a closer look at the future of different industries and business post-pandemic over the next two weeks.

Part three is Monday with a look at what church services will be like once society has reopened.

Hundreds of people across the state were allowed to go to their first in-person church service in months this past Sunday.

But the pews were not as full as they normally would be at First Baptist, because many still have concerns about the coronavirus.

These concerns bring up an interesting question, will the future of church services require you to actually come to church?

“Doing facetime or doing a zoom meeting, it’s better than nothing but it doesn’t replace getting to see them face to face in person,” Seth Youngblood said.

Maggie Youngblood and her husband Seth have been going to First Baptist Church in Mishawaka every Sunday for the last 7 years.

But church for them started well before their time together.

“I grew up as a preacher's kid,” Seth said.

“I have attended church as a kid as well,” Maggie said.

Then, 7 years ago, they were married inside that same church.

First Baptist in Mishawaka is more than just a gathering place to the Youngblood’s its part of their life and well-being.

So when Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced a statewide closure of all churches in march, Maggie says she and her husband were disappointed.

“Yes the church is not the building, I think any pastor would tell you that. The church is the people and we certainly feel that way about our church,” Maggie said. “But there is something about being in the building and worshiping with other people that we have really missed.”

And with a newborn baby now in the mix, it brought more frustration to her plate.

“By around Palm Sunday, definitely by Easter, I think that was the hardest Sunday to be home and watching things online because we were expecting, you know, that was her first Easter and her first holiday celebration with us as a family but also with our church family,” she said.

Not meeting in person has presented a variety of challenges for both churchgoers.

“I really had to focus on what he was saying on video which is a different experience than when you’re in the sanctuary and you have somebody in front of you and engaging with you,” she said.

And church leaders like Bishop Kevin Rhoades.

“It’s not the same because I can't see the looks on their faces. You know, like, if they're bored by my homily and stuff would doze off, I wouldn't know,” Bishop Rhoades said.

But like many other businesses out there, churches are adjusting to the new normal, like video conferencing.

“We've learned how to do zoom. And that's not something most people in our church knew how to do before and we're doing that now,” Peter Jones, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Mishawaka said.

Church officials also believe the distance has actually brought people closer together.

“I think we go through our busy lives and we interact once, maybe twice a week and that's it. And then so when you don't have that this is kind of forcing people to say, you know, I missed that person and I want to show them,” Pastor Jones said.

So, moving forward, will there be a move to online-only service?

“I do think that to some level, the digital aspect will continue,” Pastor Jones said.

“We've learned that we have to think of new and creative ways to bring the gospel to people. Because they don't always come to us. And this is a way for us to go to them,” Bishop Rhoades said.

Right now, churches are continually posting Sunday services on Facebook and YouTube.

“A lot of our priests are live-streaming their masses. Some every day, some just on Sundays. I have live-streamed a lot of videos,” Bishop Rhoades said. “It's really been like a new world for me.”

Now they are reaching an even larger audience.

“It's amazing with the live-streamed liturgies and devotions, how many people are following I mean, thousands, and I get a lot of feedback and, and even people who didn't go to church, some are watching,” he said.

But faith leaders don’t believe digital will be the new normal.

“I am seeing in our church, this longing to be together, and digital cannot replace that,” Pastor Jones said.

As of May 8th, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has allowed churches to start to reopen, but with major sanitary and social distancing guidelines that must be followed.

Bishop Rhoades said he doesn’t expect a major change to in-person church attendance.

“I'd say, especially with Catholicism, that the sacraments are so important to us. And you can't receive the sacraments online, you know, so I would hope that they will come back I would see the online communication as supplemental, but not in any way replacing the in-person presence,” Bishop Rhoades said.

And even with the newborn, Maggie says she isn’t too worried about going back to church either.

“I’m not nervous because of the guidelines they gave us about only certain parts of the building being open, physical distancing still taking place, no touching, hand-shaking, hugging,” Maggie said.

In fact, she says they are excited to be able to finally share their faith with the newest member of their family.

“We’re excited. We’ve really missed being there and getting to see everybody,” she said. “And the significance of we being able to attend on Sunday and it being mother’s day, especially for me, as my first Mother’s Day so I was particularly excited to hear that we would be able to gather together.

Time will only tell, but one thing is for sure, the move to online church services has reached a whole new audience in the community bringing people to discover their faith now more than ever.

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