New research detailing the impact of COVID-19 on churches has yielded mixed results, with both positives and negatives emerging in the pandemic’s wake.
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the report, Titled“Back to Normal? Mixed Messages for Collective Recovery Emerging from the Pandemic,” was conducted by the Hartford Institute for Research on Religion at the University of Hartford International Religion and Peace, and is part of a larger project to assess the impact of the pandemic.
On the positive side, attendance is rising among Christian denominations, although it remains generally “below pre-pandemic levels,” according to the report. Before COVID-19, the average worship attendance was 65 people, now down to 60.
But when one takes into account people watching worship virtually, total worship attendance jumps to an average of 75, which is higher than the 65 observed before the pandemic.
Another positive finding concerns the income and funds coming into churches. The church’s median income in 2020 was $120,000, but that number has risen to $170,000 — a 42% increase — over the past three years.
“Even adjusting for inflation,” the report said male“This still represents a significant increase of over 25% since 2020,” he added.
This positive result is said to be in line with other national giving trends.
Perhaps one of the most surprising positive elements of the study surrounds tensions and debate within churches. While America is a powder keg of emotions, especially regarding politics and controversial social issues, churches are seeing a decline in “serious conflict.”
According to the a report“All three categories of serious conflict decreased by between 5 and 25 percent,” with increases in churches experiencing no conflict or less serious levels of conflict.
The report speculates that one possible reason for this is that churches became more homogeneous before or early in the pandemic.
Despite these positive results, the data also point to another reality: challenges remain many. One of the main areas of interest is attendance and membership. This was already an issue before the pandemic, and it is unclear what the full impact of COVID-19 will be on this area.
“A third of the 4,809 churches report that attendance has increased since 2020, while just over 50% report a slight or sharp decline from where they were before the pandemic,” the report states. is reading. “This latest survey shows a slight increase of 3% for churches in the ‘significant decline’ category (those showing a decline of more than 25% from their pre-pandemic attendance) with corresponding declines in a few other categories.”
While membership numbers are an area for continued monitoring, another pre-existing issue is the age of the congregation and pastors. In 2020, the average age of a senior church leader was 57, and that number will rise to 59 in 2023.
Additionally, the average percentage of church members over the age of 65 rose from 33% in 2020 to 36% in 2023. These are not huge jumps, but they are notable statistics given concerns about the decline in the number of young people entering the church.
The same report notes that Christian churches and pastoral leadership are older “as a result of their existence.”
Inadequate representation of younger generations.”
Perhaps the most notable change that can be observed among American churches focuses on the use of technology. With the coronavirus requiring many to stay home and practice social distancing, churches have been forced to quickly innovate and offer worship services virtually.
Only 20% of churches said they streamed worship in 2019, but in 2023, that statistic jumped significantly. Today, 73% of churches offer worship online or in-person.
Ultimately, “Back to Normal? Mixed Messages for Collective Recovery Emerging from the Pandemic” shows a “mixed message” full of positives and negatives as churches continue to navigate their way out of the complex issues created by the coronavirus.
“Churches may not yet return to a state of normalcy and stability, but they are further down that path than they have been in the past two years,” the report says. I finish.
The report, part of the Exploring the Pandemic’s Impact on Congregations: Innovation Amidst COVID-19 and Beyond project, includes a total of 58 Christian denominational groups and 4,809 responses. The current wave of data was collected from January to May 2023.