Researchers Find 1 in 3 Christians Ceased Joining Church Services When Pandemic Forced Congregations to Go Digital

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Researchers from the Barna Group has found that one out of three regular church-goers ceased joining church services since the pandemic forced congregations to forsake in-person gatherings.

In their assessment of trends in church attendance and engagement between early April and late May 2020, the researchers identified three unique types of otherwise regular churchgoers: Christians who streamed the church they attended regularly pre-shutdown, Christians who streamed a different church online, and Christians who ceased “attending” church entirely.

Interestingly, they also parenthetically note that while there is a segment of Christians who had not been attending church before the pandemic and began “attending” online during this time period, this group was “currently too small to be considered statistically” so they did not include it in their report.

First, they found that one-in-three Christians is still and only participating in the online services for the church they attended pre-COVID-19.

According to recent data, “among practicing Christians—those who identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and attend church at least monthly (prior to COVID-19)—over half (53%) say they have streamed their regular church online within the past four weeks.”

Meanwhile, “Another 34 percent admits to streaming a different church service online other than their own, essentially ‘church hopping’ digitally.”

“Finally,” they explain, “about one-third of practicing Christians (32%) says they have done neither of these things.”

Again, interestingly, they note that “Though some of these churchgoers may be part of the minority of congregations that were still gathering for physical worship during these weeks, we can, for the most part, confidently interpret this group as those who have dropped out of church for the time being.”

They also note that of millennial Christians, despite being more accustomed to “digital routines,” 50% say they did not “attend” church during this time period.

“Their tenuous relationship with institutions seems to persist during this era of digital Church,” the authors of the report write. “These trends highlight the importance of churches continuing to reach out to and disciple the next generation, especially those who are seemingly falling away during the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, only 35% of Gen Xers and 26% of Boomers stopped attending online services.

Again, this data is from the first two months of widespread social distancing guidelines, so the report, which was published on July 8th, states that “percentages mentioned” may “have again shifted in recent weeks as the pandemic has progressed.”

However, the responses shown, they continue, that reflect “engagement during the height of the U.S. social distancing measures this spring” may still be “instructive for church leaders moving forward, particularly following recent spikes in COVID-19 cases.”

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