A study from Lifeway Research says fewer churchgoers attended in-person services, but many continued their personal Bible studies during the pandemic.
“Some have defined discipleship as a journey of following Christ in fellowship with other believers,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “COVID-19 appears to have had both positive and negative impacts on discipleship. Pre-pandemic churchgoers largely have shown more resolve in following Christ over the following year while altering how they engage with other believers.”
In January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 3 in 5 or about 59 percent of U.S. churchgoers said they participated in or led a church small group, according to the study. The other 41 percent said they did not.
In 2021, the percentage of churchgoers who participated in or led a small group dropped to 37 percent. Twenty-nine percent said they did not because their church did not offer small groups during the pandemic, and another 34 percent said they did not participate in groups even though some were offered.
“Our research has shown that Christians involved in in-person small group Bible studies and Sunday School classes are more likely to exemplify Christlike behaviors of serving those outside the church, sharing the gospel, volunteering within the church, giving, and investing in spiritual disciplines,” said McConnell. “During the pandemic, far fewer churchgoers benefited from these Bible-focused, relational meetings and only a portion took advantage of online options.”
As for online service options, 53 percent of churchgoers say they participated in more online services in 2020 than in 2019.
“Those who were churchgoers before COVID-19 say they are more in tune with God because of the events of 2020,” said McConnell. “This move reflects what Jesus called the greatest commandment, to love God. During the pandemic, the second greatest command to love your neighbor has often been expressed through social distancing. It will be interesting to see what impact this greater love of God has on relationships with others as those activities restart.”
In other findings, the study revealed:
- 23 percent of U.S. churchgoers say they participated in online Bible studies more in 2020 than in 2019
- 53 percent say they gave a percentage of their income to their church the same in 2020 as in 2019
- Podcast listening jumped up 15% among U.S. churchgoers in 2020
- More than 9 in 10 say they grew closer to God through the events of 2020
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Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.