For Places of Worship, Remote Meetings Are Here to Stay

As the world slowly transitions back to pre-pandemic ways of life, institutions of all kinds face an increased demand for remote services to continue indefinitely.

Many families are asking school districts to keep remote learning an option, as some children found they actually prefer it to the classroom. Colleges and universities will certainly be forced to maintain remote learning options for years to come, as students don’t want to give up the improved flexibility. And workplaces of all kinds will likely continue to offer remote work for the millions of people who don’t want to return to their workplace after saving money on long commutes and spending more time with their families.

The pandemic moved life online, and many of us don’t want to go back to the old ways of doing things.

Even for houses of worship, where the communal, in-person experience is often described as an essential part of spirituality, congregations want the option to continue the remote meetings that defined church for the last 18 months for millions if not billions of people around the globe.

According to a recent survey by Infinity Concepts and Grey Matter Research, 75 percent of evangelical Protestants in the U.S. have attended church online during the pandemic.

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted this issue in the article: “Are Internet Services as Good as Church?” Long Island pastors Henry Fuhrman and Jerry O’Sullivan of Shelter Rock Church in Nassau County, N.Y., moved their sermons online during the pandemic, meeting the challenges of remote worship as their congregation faced the worst of Covid-19.

Now that church services can return to normal with the rollout of vaccines, they’re facing a novel issue: many people still want the convenience of online worship.

“We found that 45 percent of those who experienced online church services now believe that worship online is equal or superior to the in-person experience,” said Mark Dreistadt, president and founder of Infinity Concepts, which conducted the study.

Less than half of the 1,000 evangelical Protestants surveyed (44 percent) said they want to return exclusively to in-person worship.

This sea change in church-going behavior is evident among Catholics as well. Catholic schools have long been an important part of the church, yet hundreds of schools are closing as they lose students at record rates.

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education recently issued a statement advising pontifical universities to expand educational opportunities for those who can’t attend in person, like prisoners, migrants, the homeless, monks, and nuns.

“By making use of distance learning, ecclesiastical faculties could broaden the academic formation they offer, to reach those who, in one way or another, are involved in evangelizing activities,” the congregation said in a new instruction on the use of distance learning in ecclesiastical universities and faculties.

It’s not just Christians, either. Websites empowering Hindus to purchase pujas, a kind of worship ritual, have existed online since the 1990s. Worshippers can buy these pujas for health, wealth, marriage and children, and even rituals for specific deities. But the pandemic has seen a proliferation of the practice, with hundreds of new sites created within the last year and a half, all offering subscriptions, group rates and live and recorded options.

Even among the more secular forms of spirituality, it’s clear that while remote meetings won’t permanently replace in-person gatherings, they will certainly continue to be an option.

Self-described “energy healers” have grown in popularity, often because of their personalized online meetings. For example, Reiki teacher Cait Marino was actually trained through phone meetings and remote sessions, and that’s now how she connects with most of her clients. And Canadian author and spiritual teacher John de Ruiter has continued to broaden his circle during the pandemic with weekly dialogues.

The Internet has created endless possibilities for connecting with one another from a distance. While the pandemic may have kicked that trend into overdrive, it’s clear that we can expect remote spirituality to continue being a normal part of life — for a long time to come.