A new survey shows that church attendance has still not recovered from the devastating blow of mandatory lockdowns and service cancellations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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According to a Lifeway Research poll, nearly 100 percent of churches have reopened since the pandemic closures but not all of the congregants have made their way back to the pews.
The researchers surveyed 1,000 protestant pastors to learn what their congregations look like in a post-COVID world.
“While there are a handful of exceptions, we can definitively say that churches in the U.S. have reopened,” Lifeway Research executive director Scott McConnell said. “While masks began to rapidly disappear in many settings in 2022, churchgoers have not reappeared quite as fast.”
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The report found that nearly 100 percent of churches held regular services in August 2022, which is up from 75 percent in July 2020 and 98 percent in August of last year. The study also showed that less than 10 percent of American churches stayed open in April of 2020.
While church attendance is not as high as it was pre-pandemic, it is the highest it has been in the two years following the lockdowns. The survey found church attendance is 85 percent of what it was before COVID. This is up from 60 percent in January of last year.
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The results of the poll varied across the country and across denominations. For instance, churches in the midwest and south were found to recover their attendance more quickly than churches in the northeast. Additionally, Pentecostal, Baptist and Nondenominational churches often showed higher attendance rates than they did before the pandemic.
Thom Rainer, the former president of Lifeway Research and current CEO of Church Answers, attributes some of this decline to “digital attendees” who never broke out of the habit of watching church online, as many did during the lockdowns.