Digitalization in the church in the Corona Period

24 September 2020

The international ecumenical research project CONTOC – Churches Online in Times of Corona – is examining church practice in the Corona period. PThU-researchers prof. dr. Henk de Roest en dr. Theo Pleizier participate in this project.

Role of churches during Corona

Digitalized communication is present in many areas of church life. Pastors and pastoral workers have been exhibiting a wide range of different and creative ways of dealing with the crisis situation. In the Corona period, the question of the task and role of the church has become more urgent than ever.

The role of the churches in the Corona period is discussed controversially in the media. The state-ments vary: Here, enthusiastic reports about digital innovation and pastoral renewal. There, accu-sations of missed opportunities, obedience to authorities, and insufficient communication of faith. Here, signs of lasting church reform; there, talk of their lack of systemic relevance.

The greatest learning experience in times of Corona

The research project CONTOC wants to know more about this. Nearly 6,500 pastors and pastoral workers from over twenty countries have provided information. From Germany alone, 3,960 an-swers are available, from Austria 410 and from Switzerland 771. The large number of responses to the extensive questionnaire as well as numerous detailed written comments provide a deep in-sight into the life of the Catholic, Protestant and other local churches under Corona conditions and beyond. The voices from everyday church life show that much has been learned. But there is also a great need for clarification and a high willingness to reflect among the church professionals.

Different and complex experiences and assessments

The precise evaluation of the data is at the beginning. But it is already clear that this task is compli-cated; simple and quick analyses are not enough. In cooperation with volunteers, the church's full-time staff has developed a wide variety of forms of digital services for worship, pastoral care, edu-cation, and social welfare, and they have had very different experiences. The significance of digital-ization for pastoral work and what is to be done now for the future work in the church has been widely debated, and it is contradictory.

Ambitious research project

In view of many different creative attempts to deal with the challenges of the Corona period in an existentially relevant way, a wide field of research has emerged.

This is where the CONTOC research team has started evaluating the data: Which patterns of crisis reaction can be discovered in pastoral workers and pastors? What role do questions of digitalization play in this? What are the consequences for the participation of volunteers and for the church pro-fessions? What perspectives are surfacing for church development? And how does all this compare internationally, for example, in Sweden without a lockdown, in South Korea, or in South Africa? The range of results promises to identify important indications for answering urgent development questions of the churches.

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