Researchers Kelly DuBois and Erica Boldenow, assistant professors of biology and public health at Calvin University, in Grand Rapids, Mich., are surveying churches in the United States to compile findings as part of the COVID-19 Worship Study.
Boldenow said they wanted to collect data from churches about “how COVID(-19) changed their worship practices over the past year and how they went about making decisions during the pandemic.”
They launched the project in the spring with Boldenow’s epidemiology class helping to recruit the first batch of participating churches and using “the preliminary data that we collected for analysis, which allowed us to refine a couple questions,” she said. Undergraduate research student Christina Romano also has been a major contributor to this project, Boldenow said.
Boldenow said the survey is collecting quantitative and qualitative data, meaning information that can be counted as well as more descriptive responses. As of July 8, 144 (out of 689) Christian Reformed churches have responded. Boldenow noted some write-in responses from congregations that the team found insightful, including, “Patience is necessary when navigating something that is unknown, as well as charity for those who have a different perspective” and “No one template works for all of the churches. Each church has to navigate how they can best serve God and the church by how and when they meet in person.”
Boldenow said all of the responding CRC congregations reported some kind of change to their corporate worship practices as a result of the pandemic; 97% of the responding CRC churches ceased in-person worship for any amount of time; 94% started and/or continued livestreaming services.
Boldenow said one goal of the research is that the collected data might help churches understand other churches’ decisions across denominations and regions, giving some insight into altering worship practices. “In addition, we are hoping public health professionals can use the data to help understand how diverse church responses were and think critically about how to better communicate and assist worshiping bodies during public health crises,” she said.
More than 530 churches have participated altogether, and the study is continuing. Congregations interested in completing a survey can register on the study’s website. “We are hoping to publish the final overall results in an academic public health journal,” Boldenow said.
She noted support for this project comes from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.