Pastor Paula White-Cain says her faith never wavered throughout the Pandemic. That’s one reason she has been a reliable resource for thousands who questioned theirs during the long months of lockdowns, fears, conflicting information, mask mandates, and vaccines in 2020 and 2021. Churchgoers across the country who were no longer able to congregate, tuned in by the millions to worship services and faith teachings streaming into their homes from online sources like Paula White Ministries and the City of Destiny Church in the Orlando area, which White-Cain leads as Senior Pastor.
Accessibility online is not all that has drawn new subscribers to Paula White Ministries. A hallmark of Paula White-Cain’s preaching is that she doesn’t shy away from current events, news and research, or even politics from the pulpit. Her growing number of online viewers seem to agree that White-Cain’s willingness to go there when many other ministers won’t has given them a way to connect with and sustain their faith despite the pandemic’s impact on their families and communities.
A 2020 Pew Research Center survey supports that experience. The study revealed Americans were more likely than people in other developed countries to say the pandemic positively contributed to their religious faith. In fact, 28% of Americans surveyed stated their personal faith was stronger due to the pandemic. The same percentage stated they believe the religious faith of others was also increased.
Churches Without Walls, Borders
In stark contrast to a decline in church attendance over the past several decades, online attendance soared for churches that began streaming their worship services during the pandemic. Online streaming has made churches like White-Cain’s City of Destiny accessible to millions of people outside of their area, and even worldwide. Pastor White-Cain says this explosion of online attendance has fueled greater faith among her congregants as they regain a sense of their faith identity together. White-Cain also notes many of the church’s online members say they are having a more personalized experience from streaming the services directly into their homes.
Several church leaders whose own faith was shaken by the decline in attendance at their churches during the pandemic have expressed surprise at the growth in membership from streaming. Pastor Paula says her faith increased as the pandemic unfolded because of a biblical principle she has seen hold true throughout her life of faith: “What is meant for evil, God can use for good.”
Paula White-Cain believes one proof of this principle during the pandemic is how the expansion of online accessibility to worship services has enabled non-churchgoers to be drawn in, strengthened, and encouraged despite being isolated or not having a prior interest in attending church. Faith seekers have also been able to find faith services and messages without making an in-person commitment to attend.
In fact, White-Cain says even thousands of churchgoers who had stopped attending church before the pandemic, have returned to church through online services. Many report it’s because even the small barriers to attendance have been removed, such as getting a family ready to go to church, driving to church, and even finding a parking space.
Coping with Adversity
In their research into the impact of the COVID pandemic on faith, Pew found 15% of adults that seldom or never pray, and one quarter of individuals who do not belong to any one religion, have prayed in response to the pandemic. Scientists have long studied the relationship between religion and one’s ability to cope with adversity. Research has shown that when religion is used as a reference point, individuals gain a variety of coping skills to help them manage during even prolonged periods of stress or depression.
Paula White-Cain preaches what she calls the “practicality” religion can provide individuals to improve themselves during life’s most difficult situations. She says it is the ability to positively frame events in the context of “something greater” than ourselves that has once again proven to be the greatest asset for her faith, and for the faith of those who subscribe to her ministry.
Pastor White-Cain says she teaches others to do what she does; reframe events through a lens that is hopeful. White-Cain has learned bringing hope into focus despite circumstances attracts people, and is what can bring diverse people together into a sense of connectedness, identity, and purpose with each other.
Views differ on the long-term impact the pandemic will have on churches and faith. Many leaders imagine their churches will maintain online services in some capacity. Many more look forward to congregating in person without capacity restrictions. Most seem to agree there are aspects of in-person services that cannot be replicated or fully experienced online.
Pastor White-Cain believes most congregations will take what they have learned from the pandemic and find ways to apply those lessons to a post-COVID church and faith experience. She notes that Paula White Ministries has been on-air and online for decades and will continue to expand that presence globally to reach as many people as possible with messages of faith and hope.
White-Cain says there is nowhere for people of faith to go but up. She observes the increased engagements churches have had with their communities during COVID, and believes churches will continue to serve and uplift people in need beyond the pandemic. Pastor Paula White-Cain’s City of Destiny congregation in Central Florida has experienced that for themselves. In 2020, City of Destiny distributed more than 10-million pounds of food to communities across the state by engaging with over 200 churches to reach underserved communities with meals, clothing, and new furniture. In 2021, this coalition has already served more than 15-million pounds of food to over 350-thousand families.
“Pastor Paula” says those churches understand there is even more important work to be done together after COVID. She believes maintaining that view will continue to build the faith of millions into a growing force for good that is “unstoppable, no matter what the future holds.”
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