Survey Indicates Church Attendance Has Not Returned to Pre-Pandemic Levels

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A survey has found that church attendance has not yet recovered from the devastating hit it took amid the COVID-19 pandemic when the vast majority of congregations in the U.S. ceased meeting in person.

Lifeway Research conducted a phone survey among a stratified random sample of 1,000 Protestant pastors between September 6-30 and found that while nearly 100% of churches had met in person by August 2022.

However, overall attendance is still 80% of what it was in January 2020, before lockdowns and stay home orders for the coronavirus outbreak drove many churches to cancel in-person services.

“While there are a handful of exceptions, we can definitively say that churches in the U.S. have reopened,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Scott McConnell. “While masks began to rapidly disappear in many settings in 2022, churchgoers have not reappeared quite as fast.”

“Despite churches returning to pre-pandemic levels of holding in-person services, not all churchgoers have followed suit,” Lifeway noted. “On average, U.S. Protestant churches report current attendance at 85% of their typical Sunday morning crowds in January 2020, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Attendance nonetheless remains at its highest numbers in over two years.

In September 2020, as churches in many localities had already begun to reopen, average church attendance figures were 63%.

But by August 2021, this figure had risen to 73%, and by August 2022, this had risen to 85% of the attendance figures they observed in January 2020.

Almost twice as many congregations reported being below 50% of their January 2020 figures in September 2020, now, just 8% say they are still below half of their pre-COVID figures.

What’s more, 17% report that their congregation has grown since January 2020.

Lifeway’s data from other surveys reveals that churchgoers who already attended infrequently before the pandemic appear to be those who are not returning now.

Just 34% of Christians say they attended church four times a month or more before the pandemic, while 26% said they were back to attending with this regularity in April of 2022, according to research conducted earlier this year.

Meanwhile, 36% of Christians say they attended church less than once a month before the pandemic, a figure that has jumped to 45% for this year.

“While some pre-COVID churchgoers have not returned to church at all, much of the decline in attendance is from people who are attending less often,” McConnell noted.

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