NPR Interviews Professor Scott Thumma on Suspending Worship

Photo of Professor Scott Thumma

Scott Thumma, Professor of Sociology of Religion and an expert on megachurches, was interviewed by National Public Radio about how churches are handling services with the outbreak of coronavirus.

Around the country, churches are deciding what to do based on their size, how close they are to an outbreak, and other factors.

The audio piece can be found here.

The online news story says:

The suspension of worship services is likely to affect churches across the country differently, depending on their size and available resources. Megachurches, generally defined as having more than 2,000 members, are best positioned to withstand extended closures, largely because of their extensive online operations.

“Megachurches have gone into high tech, rather than high touch,” says Scott Thumma, who studies the megachurch phenomenon at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. “So in many ways they’re exceptionally well adapted to meet the challenges of not gathering for a couple of weeks.”

Almost all megachurches raise revenue through online giving, Thumma says, and are using it to their advantage.

“If [members] give online and then agree to do it monthly,” Thumma says, “you are going to get more money than if you just plead with people face to face.”

Smaller congregations, in contrast, are likely to depend more on weekly offerings collected in church and are less able to turn to online worship and are therefore more vulnerable to extended suspension of worship services.

Another factor affecting how churches will weather the coronavirus storm, Thumma says, is their age profile.

“Megachurch congregations tend to be significantly younger, and thus less likely to be in that high risk category than smaller, more traditional mainline congregations,” Thumma says.

In U.S. Episcopal churches, Thumma notes, almost half the membership is age 65 and older, making them especially vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak.


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