Online church. Photo: Samantha Borges, Unsplash.com

Online church. Photo: Samantha Borges, Unsplash.com

While Singaporeans have been mulling over candidate choices at the 2020 General Election, local Church leaders have been grappling with a major decision of their own: When should they resume on-site worship services? And even if they do, will their members return?

Just under half of Church-goers say they will go back to physical services at this present moment, with health and safety concerns amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cited as the top factor, according to a recent survey jointly conducted by Salt&Light and Thir.st.

The survey was launched on June 25 – a week after Phase 2 of Singapore’s COVID-19 recovery plan was announced on June 18 – and conducted via SurveyMonkey. A total of 375 responses were collected.

Some snapshot findings, based on this survey:

1. Online services have been well received.

A reassuring statistic for Church leaders is that 9 in 10 respondents said they are regularly attending online Church services:

Have you been attending onmline church service weekly?

 

It should be noted that a straw poll survey of this nature, conducted online via Christian websites, would skew favourably towards a digitally-friendly demographic.

Almost half say they exclusively watch their own Church’s online service. A further 42.1% say that they watch their own Church’s online service while also viewing other Churches’ online services:

Which online church services have you been watching?


Not only have respondents been attending online service regularly, their experience has been largely positive:

How have you found the online church experience?

 

Under 5% of respondents found the online service experience “somewhat negative” – with none calling it “very negative”. More than three-quarters were “somewhat” or “very positive” about what they’ve experienced so far.

2. Three-fifths of respondents will continue to visit online services even after physical services resume.

Just over two-fifths (41.3%) of respondents say they “much prefer physically attending Church”. This is down from the 51.2% when we asked the same question in mid-May, amid the Circuit-Breaker.

A similar proportion (44.8%) say they are likely to attend both on-site and online Church even after physical services resume:

Will you continue to attend online church services?

About 1 in 7 respondents (13.9%) say they fully buy into the online Church experience, and will not return to physical services even upon resumption. This is significantly up from the 5.36% that responded the same way in our mid-May Check-In Survey, suggesting that some have gotten used to this new fully-digital model of Church, and that Churches have improved the online model – be it on YouTube, Facebook or Zoom – to the point where it is an acceptable alternative for some.

3. Just over half say they will not return to physical services yet.

Of those who responded to the survey, 30.9% said they will not return to on-site services until Singapore officially reaches Phase 3 of the national coronavirus recovery plan. A further 21.1% said they will not return “for a few months”:

Will you attend on-site church services upon resumption?


Churches gearing up to resume physical services
under Phase 2 restrictions – which include a cap of 50 congregants in attendance and a ban on live singing – are unlikely to see their full membership return immediately, with 45.6% of respondents saying they will return as soon as possible. 

4. COVID-19 concerns cited as the main deciding factor

The two main competing factors that Church-goers will base their decision on when to return to on-site service are health/safety considerations, and their longing for physical fellowship:

What factors will determine when you will attend on-site church services?

 

Just over half (53.9%) of respondents, who could choose up to 3 answers for this question, cited the lingering COVID-19 concern as a factor that would inform their decision to return to Church premises.

However, 44.3% said they miss the fellowship with Church members, with most Churches not having convened since the end of March when restrictions on Church services were first placed before the Circuit Breaker starting on April 7.

Being allowed to sing at services was cited as a factor for almost 3 in 10 (28.5%) respondents. About a fifth (20.8%) said the ability to partake of Holy Communion is a factor, with the doctrinal stand of denominations discouraging members from taking the Lord’s Supper at their own home.

Although about 22% of respondents had children aged 12 or younger, just 4.8% cited the need for a simultaneous children’s programme (Sunday School) as a factor.

Finally, about one-fifth – 21.9% – said they will attend physical services “no matter what”, but a similar figure (18.1%), on the other end of the spectrum, say they will attend only at Phase 3.


This was the second in a series of online surveys conducted by the Thir.st Collective in response to the COVID-19 situation. Read the findings of our earlier Circuit-Breaker Check-In Survey:

About the author

Edric Sng

Edric was a news editor across digital, newspaper and TV newsrooms in Singapore before he gave it all up to become Editor of Salt&Light and Thir.st. He's a father to four, and husband to one.