Study on church and Covid-19: more focus on everyday concerns

15 Nov 2021

The results of a longitudinal study about the Coronavirus show that what people want most from church and religion is practical help with their lives.

© Kirsten Neumann

How are people doing after almost two years of pandemic life? And what help do they need? These were the starting points of the qualitative longitudinal study “Lebensgefühl Corona” (“Coronavirus Moods and Attitudes”) launched by the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Diakonie social welfare organization of Germany’s Protestant churches in cooperation with the Faculty of Protestant Theology at LMU. The results of this study have now been presented in Berlin.

“Among the principal findings were that people’s moods and attitude to life during the pandemic were very ambivalent and that their expectations of the church were more modest and more concerned with everyday needs than the church often assumes,” summarizes LMU theologian Professor Christian Albrecht from the Institute of Practical Theology at the Faculty of Protestant Theology.

To study the psychosocial consequences of the pandemic, researchers tracked the emotional state of 50 people over the course of one year, starting from the summer of 2020. At various intervals, they were asked how they were dealing with the crisis and what was concerning them. This produced a sort of mood barometer that reflected the intense phases and calmer moments of the pandemic and above all people’s uncertainty about the future. The results also showed that people not only suffered from the crisis to varying extents, but responded very differently to it. From the data, the researchers were able to distinguish eight character types: “The Mindful,” “The Burned Out,” “The Thinkers,” “The Indignant,” “The Exhausted,” “The Circumspect,” “The Active Citizens,” and “The Sanguine.” By taking the Pandem-O-Mat test, which was developed out of the study findings, people can now discover which character type they are.

For LMU theologian Christian Albrecht, however, the second research question of the study held particular interest: What reassured people during the crisis and what was the role of religion and the church in providing this reassurance? The answer does not exactly chime with the church’s image of itself: “The church sees its remit as answering the deep questions of meaning, but for people it’s the small things that tend to matter a lot more,” says Albrecht. It is important to people, Albrecht observes, that the church helps them in their specific life circumstances and gives them support. This applies in particular to church services and pastoral care, where the church needs to reach out to people, be close to them, and make direct offers of help. Moreover, people emphatically do not want politics, notes Albrecht, or stern admonitions from the pulpit telling them how to live their lives.

At the same, there is a great willingness to get involved in church activities and in social initiatives. “People’s readiness to make long-term commitments has decreased,” says Albrecht. Instead, they want to be asked about specific projects to see what they can and want to contribute.

Christian Albrecht and the other researchers still have a lot of work ahead of them: “We haven’t even exhausted the study results,” says the professor. Albrecht would also like to carry the approach of the study — asking people directly what they expect from the church — into the future. This would reveal even more about the kinds of help and social and community services people want from the church, and how it can best respond to these needs. But one thing is already certain for Albrecht: A rethink is needed – and possible too. “The churches must dial back their urge to pronounce and declaim, must be more attuned to people’s expectations, must ask them more about their needs and wishes – and must make concrete offers of assistance,” says Albrecht, noting that such a change was very much feasible with the church’s current human resources.

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