“I think churches will lose some attendees on Sunday,” said King, a 59-year-old deacon at the Decatur church. “I don’t think a lot of people will come back in a hurry.”
Early in the pandemic, houses of worship were the site of some COVID-19 outbreaks, including several in Georgia. It forced many to improve their technology game by streaming or recording services online or holding Zoom-inspired worship and small group gatherings. Experts say the changes have propelled many places of worship into the future and ushered in a new era for their parishioners.
“You don’t have to worry about parking,” said King, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. “You don’t have to worry about getting a seat. You can send money online, so what are you missing? You can go to Bedside Baptist and still feel the Spirit.”
As vaccinations increase, more people will eagerly return to church for in-person services. But many will likely choose a hybrid model for their worship, sometimes in person and sometimes online. Some will continue their individual learning, and others will not come back at all.
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church’s sanctuary holds roughly 7,000 people, said the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, the Stonecrest megachurch’s senior pastor. He doesn’t know, though, when he will see that many people in the church again.
“The throngs of people that many churches and pastors are used to is gone,” said Bryant, whose church already had a vibrant online ministry before the pandemic.
Bryant expects New Birth to start holding services inside the huge sanctuary either on or after Labor Day weekend. On Easter, though, services will be held outdoors.
“I think about the young family that has adjusted to praising God while eating pancakes,” he said. “They have to get the 4-year-old ready with snacks and a juice box. I think everything is up for grabs.”
All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Atlanta is planning eight services on Easter Sunday, with the possibility of adding two more.
Last year, the church had services that were streamed or held outdoors. For Easter this year, services will again be held in person outdoors, with worshippers following social distancing and other safety guidelines.