Covid and the New Open-Door Policy
Dr. Mike Wood Daly currently serves as Director of the Halo Canada Project
For centuries, many Christian congregations have operated with an open-door policy that claims “all are welcome.” And then came Covid! Doors were locked, lights were dimmed, and buildings were shuttered.
In the summer and fall of 2021, many of these congregations across the country enjoyed a return to normal. Case counts were low, hospital admissions had been reduced, and masks were being lowered with much relief. Even if the doors of worship centers, restaurants, theatres, and government offices weren’t quite being thrown wide open yet, the easing of restrictions had opened them just a crack.
Writing now at the outset of 2022, with the country in the midst of its fourth Covid wave (or is it a fifth?), this time fueled by the Omicron variant, many of these doors have once again been shut tight. This opening and shutting has led me to wonder if we haven’t had this “open-door policy” wrong for some time now.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, the Christian mandate seemed all about populating street corners with spires and filling pews with faithful Canadians. Current attendance figures, dwindling church accounts, and for sales signs on the lawns of shuttered-up churches have all begun to call into question the way we’ve been viewing our open-door policies.
As Rev. Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada shared with me recently:
The greatest opportunity [the Canadian Church has at present] has been given to us through the challenges of the pandemic. We have been released from our buildings to discover God is present and among us online, offline, in our homes, in our gardens, and in our relationships. Many people were able to dip their toes into worship online without the fear of entering a foreign ‘sacred space’. We have discovered new resilience and creativity that had not been imagined before. We have had to look at our traditions in new ways. Now the opportunity is to reflect on our learning and let it guide us into the future. How will we continue to engage with those who have met us online? How will we build community that is not so dependent on a building? Exciting, scary possibilities lie before us. The only question will be will we have the courage to embrace change?
Covid has given religious Canadians the opportunity to reimagine which way our church doors swing and which direction the traffic through them is intended to flow. Covid-informed churches will be those who realize there is no longer any status quo when it comes to being the Church in Canada: the tension-filled relationship between the Canadian Church and Canada’s Indigenous People is only the tip of the iceberg.
Covid, and its restrictions, have given churches in Canada the opportunity not only to be part of a “new normal” but the potential of being at the forefront of defining what Canada’s new normal looks like. When church doors finally do re-open, they can still be a channel for welcoming people in. But they can also be a portal for Christians willing to leave the safety of our buildings, history, insulated communities, and privilege to engage others in the hopes that we might also be welcomed and embraced by them.
Dr. Mike Wood Daly has worked as a congregational minister, community developer, and educator. He currently serves as Director of the Halo Canada Project and is the author of the upcoming book, God Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Decline and Resilience in the Canadian Church.
What We Are Reading
Two recent reports have come out in the United States looking at US congregations and COVID-19. Both reports provide some interesting data to ponder. The first report, The Pillar 2021 Survey on Religious Attitudes and Practice, surveyed 2653 Americans about their beliefs, religious affiliation, and practices. What is of interest are the Catholic respondents around church attendance and the pandemic. For example, 41% of those who describe themselves as Catholic reported going to Mass at least once a week before the pandemic. Another 41% said they went less frequently—in a range between a few times a month and less than once annually. Eighteen percent of Catholics said they never went to Mass before the pandemic.
The numbers have shifted since the start of the pandemic: only 36% of Catholics say they now go to Mass at least once a week—including streaming Masses. The number going at less frequent intervals has also dropped, and the number who say they never go to Mass has increased to 29%. Further, the number who attend Mass weekly — in person or via streaming — has decreased by 14% since COVID-19 and the number of Catholics who never go to Mass has increased by 62%.
In the second report, The Ripple Effect: Congregations, COVID, and the Future of Church Life, by Grey Matter Research surveyed 1000 Protestant evangelical respondents on a number of issues, but one of the areas that the report looked at were respondents’ experiences with temporary substitutes for attending worship services in person during the pandemic—and most importantly, whether those were really temporary or not.
Seventy-seven per cent stopped attending because their church paused in-person services for a time, but 12% made a personal decision to stop attending in-person worship. The remaining 11% continued attending in person throughout the pandemic. The figure below shows what were the substitutes for in-person worship service:
In addition to streaming church services online, 18% also said they went online to search out teaching other than church services.
These are just a few examples of the data that is provided by these two reports. Although the data is from the US, it does provide a time for further reflection for Canadian pastoral leaders and congregants as we move forward in respect to worship services or mass.
Dr. Arch Wong is Professor of Practical Theology at Ambrose University and Associate Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute.
The Global Leadership Summit: Special Edition
Thu, February 24, 2022
9:00 AM – 12:30 PM MST
The Global Leadership Summit: Special Edition includes a world-class leadership faculty who will deliver their wisdom and perspective to help you thrive personally and professionally. Hosted LIVE online and broadcast from our main campus outside Chicago, this half-day leadership boost will give you the clarity of vision and new energy you need to start your year off with focus and drive.
We’re excited to announce the return of senior pastor of Life. Church, Craig Groeschel, who will be joined by entrepreneur and Financial Times columnist, Margaret Heffernan, #1 New York Times best-selling author, Daniel Pink, and renowned educator, Principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman, among others to be announced soon! Register Here.
What is God Saying to the Church?
Tuesday, March 1, 2022 • Noon Central | 2 PM Atlantic | 6 PM GMT
March 2022 marks two years since the pandemic hit much of the world. What is God saying to the Church in the last two years? What have we learned? What should be our focus moving forward? Join Fr. James Mallon, Bishop Robert Barron, and Revd. Nicky Gumbel in this live online event. Register here
Canadian Religion in Global Perspective
The goal of this report is to provide a concise high-quality descriptive portrait of key religiosity indicators in 81 countries from 2017-2020 European Values Survey (EVS) and World Values Survey (WVS) data, with a special focus on Canada. Read Report
Religiosity in Canada and its evolution from 1985 to 2019
In recent decades, the religious landscape in Canada has undergone significant changes, including a decline in religious affiliation and the practice of religious activities, both collectively and individually. Data from several cycles of the General Social Survey were used in this study to paint a portrait of the diverse relationships Canadians have with religion. The study also presents key trends in the evolution of religiosity in Canada since 1985. Download Report
How might churches flourish after the pandemic? in Faith Today.
This article explores some of the realities that churches might anticipate moving forward, with focused attention given to innovation and engaged laity. Read Report
Report on Catholic Parishes in Canada
This report captures the descriptive findings on perceptions and experiences in areas such as congregational identity, leadership, innovation, discipleship, engaged laity, hospitable community, neighbourhood involvement, and evangelism within Catholic parishes in Canada. Download Report
Gotta Have Faith | Context
Watch Director of Flourishing Congregations Institute, Dr. Joel Thiessen, on Context, as he speaks about the trend of church attendance and the importance of religion across Canada. Watch Now