Title: Faith communities online: Christian churches' reactions to the COVID-19 outbreak

Authors: Anthony-Paul Cooper; Ilkka Jormanainen; Annastasia Shipepe; Erkki Sutinen

Addresses: Centre for Church Growth Research (CCGR), Cranmer Hall, St John's College, Durham University, Durham, UK; University of Turku, Turku, Finland ' University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland ' University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia ' University of Turku, Turku, Finland

Abstract: The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus as a global pandemic has challenged the operations of faith communities around the world. Contrary to secular communities, faith communities need to base their actions on theological arguments. Normally, at least in the mainline churches, theological reflections and related decision making follow a strictly regulated hierarchical process that was not possible when refining novel modes of actions required by the pandemic and governmental legislation. It seems that, hence, it was not the central administration that was in charge, but rather congregations and smaller groups that were proactive in shifting and modernising their operations. This saw individual congregations transforming to faith-based online communities almost overnight, gathering participants well beyond conventional physical events. The fact that the virus outbreak overlapped with the important Easter season, normally attracting people to attend church services even in secularised countries, enriches the analysis.

Keywords: COVID-19; digital theology; online religion; religion online; sociology of religion; church growth; faith communities; web-based communities.

DOI: 10.1504/IJWBC.2021.114453

International Journal of Web Based Communities, 2021 Vol.17 No.2, pp.99 - 119

Received: 21 May 2020
Accepted: 22 May 2020

Published online: 18 Feb 2021 *

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