ARIZONA, USA — The COVID-19 pandemic has made many church services shift to virtual over the past year, but some facilities like North Valley Community Church (NVCC) are beginning to welcome back worshippers.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey lifted the mask mandate in late March and NVCC is offering multiple services on Sundays starting at 8:30 a.m. Masks are required at the 8 a.m. service and masks are optional at the 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. services.
Pastor Ryan Rice, who’s been with the church for eight and a half years, says it’s important for his parishioners to feel comfortable and be able to express their faith without jeopardizing their health.
“It’s kind of like the Superbowl for church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” he said about Easter Sunday.
Rows were filled this Sunday with members who praise the optional mask services. But, faith-based gatherings may never return to pre-pandemic numbers.
ASU professor Dr. Terry Shoemaker, who closely follows religious studies and trends, says even though campuses are now allowing in-person services, attendance for faith-based gatherings is still largely low.
“It’s a trend we started to see in the 1990s where more and more people are disaffiliating in the United States in the Christian church,” Dr. Shoemaker said.
While that’s a simple explanation, he says it doesn’t quite entail the exact numbers. The downward trend isn’t necessarily tied to the pandemic but could spawn new routines for people who go to church.
“If we see a return to church or if we see that people relaxed in not going to church and doing online church services,” Dr. Showmaker said.
Many people are finding faith in their own way through the internet and while they aren’t always religious, they can be quite spiritual. Numbers show younger generations really can’t attend traditional weekend services and have benefited from the option of virtual services.
“I think a hard position for churches is it becomes how can we reach those people who...don’t know when they’re available. They don’t have a regular set schedule so it becomes difficult for churches and outreach,” Dr. Showmaker said.
Regardless of the research, NVCC members like Matt Hanson are happy to be back in the presence of real people, especially on Easter Sunday.
“It’s just exciting to be able to meet together,” Hanson said.
Many valley churches are leaving it up to the parishioners to decide on how they feel most comfortable expressing their faith.
“We’re online until Jesus returns, now. Online, on-campus, outside, indoors, we do it all,” Pastor Rice said.
See some inspiring stories of people doing good and supporting those in their communities across Arizona on our 12 News YouTube Page here.