A nationwide survey released last week reveals that roughly eight months after government lockdowns began targeting churches, only about one in ten Protestant pastors in the U.S. reports that their church attendance is close to pre-pandemic level.
As the number of COVID-related deaths continues to climb – with the recent spike putting the death toll in the U.S. at more than 228,000 – many of those deaths are being questioned as political and financial motivations come into play. Yet many former regular churchgoers are staying home from church and attending services virtually … or finding something else to do for their Sunday routines altogether.
The lingering toll of COVID
Monitoring the state of America’s spirituality, the latest survey conducted by LifeWay Research Center – via interviews of more than 1,000 Protestant pastors across the U.S. from September 2 to October 1 – discovered that even though a majority of Protestant churches across the country have held in-person worship services, attendance is considerably lower than what it was before the coronavirus struck.
Nashville-based LifeWay Research found that just 11% of Protestant pastors responded that their church attendance in September was 90–100% of what it was before the coronavirus struck in February, and only 4% reported higher numbers last month than at the beginning of the year before the lockdowns.
While 87% of Protestant pastors indicated that their churches held in-person services in September, 13% responded that their doors have remained closed for worship. A much larger percentage of black Protestant pastors (60%) said that their churches did not meet in person in September.
When it comes to not physically gathering at church last month, a much higher percentage of mainline pastors (31%) kept their congregants from entering their doors, while this was the case for only 7% of evangelical pastors.
Furthermore, taking a look at pastors from particular denominations electing to keep their congregants at home, here’s what the breakdown looks like from LifeWay Research:
- Presbyterian/Reformed – 23%
- Methodist – 22%
- Lutheran – 12%
- Restorationist movement – 10%
- Baptist – 9%
COVID scare tactics still working
Lifeway Research executive director Scott McConnell commented on the impact of COVID on churches' in-person gatherings.
“[Even though] more and more churches across the U.S. have found ways to meet again, things are not back to normal,” McConnell pointed out in his Christian nonprofit group’s survey report. “The impact of regulations, caution and hardships mean more than one in ten churches are still not meeting in person for any type of worship service.”
He stressed that when the Body of Christ is separated, it is not functioning the way God intended.
“Churches are living organisms, and when more than a third of their members are missing, they are not whole,” McConnell explained.
Since LifeWay began surveying pastors over changes caused by the pandemic – beginning in March – church attendance has decreased considerably, as they said that less than 70% of people who showed up in-person before the pandemic still come to church.
Extrapolating further, 9% of churches reported September attendance being below 30% of their February attendance, while 20% indicated their numbers were 30–50% lower than before the COVID scare.
Additionally, 34% of pastors surveyed indicated that in-church attendance was from 50–70% of the level it was before the coronavirus hit, whereas a smaller 21% of churches registered September attendance at 70–90% of pre-COVID numbers.