LifeWay Research has just reported the results of a survey conducted in early October surveying over 1000 Protestant Pastors. The findings indicate that church attendance has been severely impacted by the onset of COVID-19 and that some pastors are already fearing long-lasting effects to their congregations.
"More and more churches across the U.S. have found ways to meet again, but things are not back to normal," said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville-based research organization. "The impact of regulations, caution and hardships mean more than 1 in 10 churches are still not meeting in person for any type of worship service. Churches are living organisms, and when more than a third of their members are missing, they are not whole."
The report revealed that 87% of Protestant churches had begun to meet in person again to varying degrees by September. However, of those churches meeting in person, nearly all have reported attendance numbers well below that of pre-COVID worship services. A majority of pastors (54%) have reported attendance to be between 30% and 70% of pre-COVID services, and only about 15% report attendance above 90%. In response, McConnell stated that, "Since many large churches are not used to functioning with so few people, they may need to reconnect with small churches in their area for ideas.
Churches of all sizes have much more in common this year and likely can be learning from each other." In essence, most churches can now be considered "small churches" for operational purposes. LifeWay found that since the pandemic, 73% of churches are reporting worship services attendances of less than 100 individuals, up 23% from the number of churches who reported numbers below triple digits prior to COVID-19. Additionally, those larger churches who had 250 or more attendees in February, are now reporting attendance below 30% of previous numbers.
Some churches are now beginning to fear longer lasting effects of quarantine as well. Over a quarter of pastors stated that their churches had to cut expenditures for projects, ministries, staff benefits and positions, and missionaries. Although a majority of churches have not had to make drastic financial changes due to the pandemic, McConnell stated that many pastors fear that "suspended ministry activities already feel long term."