The vast majority of Americans believe churches should operate according to the same social distancing guidelines as other organizations, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center. 79% of those surveyed said that houses of worship should “be subject to the same social distancing rules as other organizations.” Only 19% of those surveyed disagreed.
Three out of four Christians who responded to the survey, which was conducted between July 13th and 19th, also agreed that churches should follow the same rules. 74% of all Christians said churches should follow the same guidelines as other businesses while 25% said churches should be given more flexibility.
When Christians were polled about what they believed their churches should be doing right now, only 13% believed that their congregation should be operating in the same manner as it did before the outbreak of COVID-19. 28% believed their churches should still be closed to public gatherings and 57% said their churches should be opened with modifications.
These numbers tracked closely with the current practice of churches in the United States. Only 6% of respondents said their churches were meeting just as they were before the pandemic. 31% of those surveyed said their churches were still closed and 55% replied that their churches were open with modifications. Those modifications included social distancing, requiring masks, and restricting attendance. 7% of those surveyed were not sure what their churches were currently doing.
The results of the survey come as debates about restrictions on churches have heated up in recent weeks. In July, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to reject an appeal by Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, who was seeking to suspend Nevada’s restrictions on in person gatherings which apply particularly to churches, The Christian Postreports.
Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California made headlines recently when his church decided to defy California’s restrictions and meet in person. The church initially complied with state mandates, but the church’s elders decided to begin meeting in person again in late July. 3,000 attended the first weekend and 6,000 worshipped together the second weekend. MacArthur remains committed to meeting in person even though local authorities have threatened sanctions against the church.
On a recent episode of the “Edifi with Billy Hallowell” podcast, MacArthur said, “The governor said the church is not essential. Some things were essential – liquor stores were essential, abortion clinics were essential, grocery stores were essential but the church was not essential.” He continued, “Based on the Constitution, the governor doesn’t have the authority to say what is essential… the governor has no constitutional authority to say the church is not.”
Other churches have decided to continue holding off meeting in person. As Christian Headlines recently reported, Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Church in Atlanta announced that the church would not be meeting in person for the rest of 2020. A survey of pastors found that a growing number of them believe they will be joining Stanley in not meeting until 2021.
One church not meeting in person until 2021 is Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, which is pastored by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear. Greear said the church may not be meeting, but their mission continues. He said, “The message we seek to send to our congregation and to our community is that, even when we are unable to gather as a large church on the weekend, the Summit Church is not ‘closed’ because the church exists everywhere the members of the church live.”
A growing number of evangelicals have attended services in recent weeks. 44% of those who were faithfully attending worship before the pandemic began said they have attended a service in person recently, while over 80% said they have been watching services virtually.
Photo courtesy: Debby Hudson/Unsplash
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”