Several reports revealed that church attendance has declined recently, largely due to COVID-19 and the restrictions made to control its spread. The decline in physical attendance, however, doesn't necessarily mean believers have turned their backs on God - because they continue in the faith and attend church via online services, a renowned minister said.
Samaritan's Purse and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association President Franklin Graham recently revealed that despite the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, more people have come to put their faith in God's Son, Jesus Christ, as compared to last year.
"I think there's nothing normal about 2020. We've never gone through a pandemic in my lifetime. The world has never been locked down before," Graham told the Christian Post. "It's God who touches people's hearts and opens up people's eyes. The pandemic hasn't stopped it. If anything, it's advanced it."
The minister said that so far, about 1.7 million people have already made the decision to give their lives to Christ in 2020 - a huge increase from the 1.4 million people who did the same thing in 2019.
What's remarkable about this is the fact that this happened during a pandemic. Various restrictions have been placed in different places, all of them seemingly aimed at preventing people from gathering together in church. Despite these orders, however, the number of people who have turned to God have increased.
Recent surveys have revealed that many have stopped attending church since the pandemic began. According to a study by the Barna Research Group, for example, at least one in five people have not attended church, whether in person or online, since COVID-19 went out of China and became a pandemic that would affect the entire world.
Barna's Savannah Kimberlin noted that most churchgoers admit to considering being able to worship alongside others a very important thing. She said that such church people feel motivated to worship God more when there are other people worshiping Him as well. This helps such people "participate" in worship, and the more satisfied they are with their participation in worship, the better.
There's a downside to this perceived perk, however. Kimberlin noted that in the absence of other people during worship, some churchgoers will not feel as satisfied with their participation as when there are other people around. The decrease in church participation can lead to a decrease in church attendance. A decrease in attendance, again, can lead to even lower participation, and so on.
Another study, however, found that while COVID-19 might have forced some Christians to avoid attending an in-person or online church, it wasn't capable of stopping people from believing in God.
According to an American Bible Society survey, conducted in partnership with Barna, while church attendance dropped during the pandemic, the number of people who report to have read or are reading their Bibles have increased.
For these people, the pandemic became a motivation to grow in their faith. Some of those who've had a close encounter with COVID-19, for example, report having a "remarkable increase" in their Bible usage.
A survey also revealed that people, particularly Gen Zers, consider faith as a very important thing to have during the pandemic.
For Franklin Graham, the COVID-19 pandemic simply showed who really loved God. He said churches who suffered from decreased attendance are likely to be churches that do not preach the Bible. He also indicated that those who do not value their faith leave, while those who value it and what God has done for them remain in pursuit of God. Those who come from churches that actually teach what the Bible teaches, however, remain steadfast in their faith.
"Bible-teaching churches have generally done very well and are full," he said. "The pews may not be full, but more people are watching online than those [who usually] attend the church."