By Aaron Earls
Pastors and church leaders say they are struggling with making reopening decisions because of the divides within their congregation, according to Lifeway Research.
A new Pew Research study found churchgoers’ opinions on what churches should be doing mostly lines up with what their congregation is currently doing.
Among U.S. adults who typically attend religious services at least monthly or attended in person in the last month, the majority say their church is open with modifications, and that’s also what they believe to be the best course of action.
When asked about their congregation currently, 55% say it is open with some modifications. Three in 10 (31%) say it’s closed, and 6% say it’s open as normal, just like before the outbreak.
Specifically among evangelical Protestants, 64% say their church is holding services, but with changes as a result of the coronavirus. A quarter (24%) say their congregation is closed for services, while 7% say they are having services the same way they did before.
When churchgoers who say their churches are open but with modifications were asked about those changes, 45% say their church is requiring social distancing, 36% say restricting attendance, 35% requiring masks, and 20% say limiting communal singing.
For evangelicals, 52% say their church is requiring people stay at least six feet apart, 38% say they’re restricting the number who can attend at one time, 32% are requiring masks, and 16% are limiting singing.
Overall, churchgoers answers were similar when asked what they believe their church should be doing right now.
Most say their church should be open with modifications (57%), while fewer want their congregations completely closed (28%) or open as normal (13%).
When asked about the modifications, church attendees would prefer additional restrictions.
Half say churches should require social distancing (51%). More than 2 in 5 want mask requirements (44%) and attendance restrictions (41%). Three in 10 (29%) favor limiting communal singing.
For evangelicals, 55% say their church should require social distancing, 41% say restrict the attendance, 43% favor masks requirements, and 23% support limiting or prohibiting communal singing.
Overall, 71% of churchgoers say their preference matches their church’s current operating status, comprised of 47% who support their church being open on a modified basis, 21% who support their church being closed, and 4% who support their church being fully open.
Around 1 in 5 (21%) say their church’s status is too restrictive, which includes 7% whose church is open with restrictions but think it should be open normally and 14% whose church is closed and think it should be open normally or with changes.
Few (8%) say their congregation is too relaxed, including 2% with a church open normally but who think it should be closed or open with changes, and 6% whose church is open with modifications, but they think it should be closed.
Lifeway Research found that among Protestant churches who have held in-person worship services, 99% have taken some precautions.
Most pastors say they’ve provided hand sanitizer, masks, or gloves to those needing it (94%), conducted additional cleaning (86%), closed seats to increase distance between people (76%), and recommended masks (59%).
Fewer pastors say they’ve required masks (35%), added services to allow people to spread out (21%), conducted temperature checks of staff and volunteers (21%), added additional viewing rooms to allow people to spread out (18%), conducted temperature checks of all attendees (14%).
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor for Facts & Trends.