A new study shows that changes made to churches during the pandemic may be long-term.
According to Lifeway Research, the fall 2021 study, “The Ripple Effect: Congregations, COVID, and the Future of Church Life,” showed that while nearly 87 percent of American evangelicals were attending church on a semi-regular basis, almost all of them stopped attending for at least a time because of the pandemic.
Most stopped attending because the church stopped in-person gatherings, but 12 percent made the personal decision to stop even if their church was opened.
Infrequent churchgoers were more likely to stop attending in-person services than those who attended church before. For example, of those who attended church less than monthly pre-pandemic, 25 percent chose to stop attending when the pandemic started.
Of those who attended services at least monthly, only 11 percent decided to stop attending in-person services during the pandemic.
Sunday mornings at many churches have changed during the pandemic. Among people whose churches closed for in-person services, 98 percent of American evangelicals looked for another way to worship.
Among those who decided to stop attending in-person services, just 12 percent did not seek another way to worship.
Some of the common substitutes for in-person worship were online services (78 percent), reading the Bible and/or worshiping at home with family (48 percent), watching church on television (39 percent) or listening to Christian radio (28 percent).
Lifeway Research found that 45 percent of all Americans watched a Christian church service online during the pandemic, including 15 percent who said they do not regularly attend church.
In many cases, churchgoers asked church leaders to consider reopening the churches.
“More than 50 percent of our church pushed us to reopen,” said Mike Meshaw, lead pastor of Grace Church in North Carolina.
“Our people still take precautions, social distancing, and masks – voluntarily,” he added. “But we stay open.”
A lead pastor of a church in Virginia told Christianity Today that he saw “Zoom fatigue” with streaming, but there was also division over mask-wearing.
“There was a Zoom fatigue that set in with streaming,” he said, adding that there was “an element of the congregation” that were “angered by the mask-mandated position.”
A Barna Group study from 2020 also found that one in three practicing Christians dropped out of church entirely at the beginning of the pandemic.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Kadirdemir
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.