Most Protestant Churches Have Reopened, but Attendance Levels Are Slow to Recover, Survey Finds

Written by on November 9, 2021

According to the latest survey from Lifeway Research, while most Protestant churches have resumed in-person services since the pandemic began, congregants have been slow to return.

The survey, which was conducted Sept. 1-29 and includes the responses of 1,000 Protestant pastors, revealed that about 98 percent of Protestant churches have reopened for in-person services. According to The christian Post, the findings demonstrated a close match to pre-pandemic levels.

In-person church attendance, however, was still a long way from what it was pre-pandemic. Compared to figures from January 2020, 13 percent of churches reported drawing less than 50 percent of their pre-COVID attendance as of August.

An additional 35 percent reported having 50-70 percent of their pre-COVID attendance, and another 30 percent reported attendance levels of 70-90 percent.

About one in eight churches reported attendance levels between 90 and 100 percent, and nine percent said that in August, their attendance levels exceeded their pre-pandemic levels.

“Many pastors and church leaders are anxious for the whole congregation to gather physically together,” Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said in a statement.

“Worship attendance is improving, but there is still a large gap between today’s in-person attendance and pre-COVID levels,” he added.

The Lifeway Research survey also reported a disparity among white and Black churches, as black pastors were 12.5 times more likely than white pastors to report that their attendance levels are less than 30 percent of what it was pre-pandemic.

“Every church’s path has been different during the pandemic, and each stage of resuming specific aspects of ministry is significant,” McConnell explained.

Meanwhile, 73 percent of pastors said their in-person attendance levels in August were less than 100 people. Of those who reported having fewer than 100 attendees, 40 percent said fewer than 50 people were attending church each weekend. Moreover, less than six percent of pastors noted that 250 or more people were attending in-person church services.

Another significant find is that smaller churches had an advantage over larger churches when it came to recovering attendance levels.

“Most small churches are still not back to pre-pandemic attendance, but far more of them are reaching this point than larger churches,” McConnell said. “It’s possible small churches are aided by perceived safety of a naturally smaller gathering, differences in technology options for gathering online, or the strength of relational connections. But regardless of the reasons why, in-person worship attendance trends currently look promising for small churches.”

Photo courtesy: Debby Hudson/Unsplash

Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.

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