Wise church leaders will seek to better understand why some from their congregations are no longer involved.
By Aaron Earls
After enduring a year of lockdowns and social distancing, 91% of churchgoers said they planned to physically attend worship services as much or more than they did prior to the pandemic once COVID-19 was no longer an active threat to people’s health. Almost a quarter (23%) said they planned to attend even more.
By August 2022, statistically 100% of churches had reopened and were holding in-person services, but the average church was at 85% of their pre-COVID attendance numbers. Most churches are still missing previous attendees.
So why haven’t these attendees returned? According to a Pew Research study, those missing churchgoers give four primary reasons they’re staying away.
Not everyone stopped attending for the same reason. Wise church leaders will seek to better understand why some from their congregations are no longer involved in order to reach out to draw them back.
Despite the Centers for Disease Control ending the public health emergency declaration surrounding COVID-19 on May 11, 2023, and most individuals already returning to their routine lives, some previous churchgoers say they’re still concerned.
When Pew asked U.S. adults who attend in-person religious services less often than they did before the pandemic why that’s the case, 51% say their worry about COVID-19 is a reason. One in 5 (20%) say concern over the pandemic is a major reason, while 31% say it’s a minor reason.When Pew Research asked U.S. adults who attend in-person religious services less often than they did before the pandemic why that's the case, 51% say their worry about COVID-19 is a reason. Click To Tweet
Pew also asked those who regularly watch religious services online or on TV about their reasoning. Half (50%) say it’s safer. “I can watch services without worry about catching or spreading COVID-19 or other illnesses.” A quarter (25%) say this is a major reason for their habits of viewing rather than attending, and a quarter (25%) say it’s a minor reason.
Some previous churchgoers are more comfortable watching from home. Around 3 in 10 (31%) say their preference for watching religious services online or on TV is a reason they’re attending in person less often. That’s a major reason for 10%.
Among those who regularly watch religious services, convenience is the top reason. Almost 3 in 4 (74%) say at least part of why they watch online or on TV is the fact that it’s convenient, with 43% saying that’s a major reason.Almost 3 in 4 U.S. adults who regularly watch religious services (74%) say at least part of why they watch online or on TV is the fact that it's convenient, with 43% saying that's a major reason. Click To Tweet
For some previous churchgoers, the pandemic altered their circumstances, making attendance more difficult. More than a third (36%) say something happened in the past two years, be it physical limitations or a lack of transportation, that makes it more of a struggle to attend in person. For 16%, this is a major reason they attend less often.
More than 3 in 10 U.S. adults (32%) who watch religious services say they do so because they have an illness or disability that prevents them from attending in person, with 16% saying that is a major reason.
As people stopped attending during the pandemic, many simply found no reason to return. Among those who now attend less often, half (49%) say a reason for this change is they found other ways to pursue their spiritual interests, with 21% citing that as a major reason.Among those who now attend church less often since the pandemic, half (49%) say a reason for this change is they found other ways to pursue their spiritual interests, with 21% citing that as a major reason. Click To Tweet
For more than 2 in 5 (41%), they realized they actually didn’t miss going to church when they stopped attending because of shutdowns. Around 1 in 7 (14%) say this is a major reason for them attending less often now.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.