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Church goers worship at Word of Life Fellowship (Source: Word of Life/Flickr)

Survey: Churchgoers Say They Plan to Return to In-Person Worship

By Yonat Shimron

A study of 1,000 U.S. Protestant churchgoers found 91% said they planned on returning to in-person worship when it is safe to do so.

The study from Lifeway Research, a nonprofit affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, suggests churchgoers are eager to return to pre-pandemic worship practices.

“Many of these pastors are wondering if those who haven’t returned ever will,” Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said. “Nine in 10 churchgoers plan to when it is safe to do so.”Lifeway COVID Church

Though many churches are already meeting in person, attendance has typically been smaller to accommodate for social distancing. In January, 51% of churchgoers said they didn’t attend any in-person services and 83% said they watched a livestream of a church service instead. With vaccines now becoming more readily available, attendance is likely to pick up soon, the study suggested.

The study also noted that only 5% of churchgoers have switched to another church in the same geographic area during the pandemic, and only 3% have switched churches because of a move.

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Many churchgoers reported that they have helped each other and reached out beyond their church during the pandemic. Around 2 in 5 (41%) say they have checked on others in their church,. About the same number (38%) say people in their church have checked on them. For 15%, the time during the pandemic has provided an opportunity to share the gospel with someone.

“Like other Americans, churchgoers have seen the effects of COVID-19 first-hand,” said McConnell. “Many churchgoers have also felt the benefits of being part of a church as members checked on them or provided assistance.”

A total of 8% of churchgoers said they have been diagnosed with COVID-19; 42% said someone in their church has been diagnosed with the disease, and 18% said a fellow church member died from it.

The survey was conducted Feb. 5-18 using a national, pre-recruited panel. It had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Other surveys suggest some things are likely to change for good as a result of the pandemic.

Digital tithing may be one. A Wired magazine story reported COVID-19 greatly accelerated the trend, with one-third of churches that had not before used a digital tithing platform signing up for one. (About half of U.S. churches had already been offering such services pre-pandemic.)

And while some smaller congregations may discontinue online services once it is safe to gather in person, other churches may find value in a hybrid model, especially if they have drawn a new audience online and if those new viewers are also contributing online.

Yonat ShimronYonat Shimron is a national reporter and senior editor for Religion News Service.

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4 thoughts on “Survey: Churchgoers Say They Plan to Return to In-Person Worship”

  1. The trend has already started at our church here in Ohio. Last Sunday had more in attendance than any time since the pandemic began. I saw people in the hallways that I literally have not seen for a year.
    It was very good to see them, and to hear their fellowship in the hallways.

    1. Just as long as they follow COVID occupancy guidelines for your state and county, social distancing, masking, etc.

  2. It’s now or never, folks. The World Economic Forum’s plan is that it will never be “safe” enough for people, especially Christians, to gather like we previously did.

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