Nearly half of Americans watched online church services during the COVID-19 pandemic, including many who normally do not attend in-person services, according to a new Lifeway Research survey.
The poll found that 45 percent of Americans say they watched an online church service during the pandemic. The number includes 30 percent who normally attend church in-person and 15 percent who typically do not attend church.
Americans ages 18-34 (18 percent) and 50-64 (18 percent) are the most likely to say they watched a streaming service even though they usually don’t attend church in person.
The data suggests that millions of unchurched people in the United States tuned in to a streaming service while stuck at home.
“The distance to one’s nearest church has changed almost overnight,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “A form of communication that was not even used by most churches before the pandemic has now reached almost half of Americans.”
Just over half (52 percent) of Americans say they did not watch online services during the pandemic. That includes 42 percent who normally do not attend church in-person and 10 percent who do.
A Lifeway Research survey released in March found that 85 percent of Protestant churchgoers say their church offered livestreaming services. Among churchgoers whose congregations offered such services, 83 percent watched. The most popular platforms for livestreaming were the church website (55 percent), Facebook Live (51 percent) and YouTube (34 percent).
“Church participation is in flux,” McConnell said. “Some who were regular, in-person churchgoers before COVID-19 only view online services today, others have never tuned in online despite the pandemic, and still others use both at different times. This shift has created both challenges and opportunities for pastors and church leaders.”
The survey of 1,005 Americans was conducted Sept. 3-14 and released this month.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.