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Church attendance is all over the place, but mostly down

Although most Protestant churches have resumed in-person services, overall attendance continues to lag behind pre-pandemic levels, a new Lifeway Research survey found.

“While there are a handful of exceptions, we can definitively say that churches in the United States have reopened,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “While masks began to rapidly disappear in many settings in 2022, churchgoers have not reappeared quite as fast.”

Nearly 100 percent of churches met in person in August, according to the report. That number is up from 75 percent in July 2020 and 98 percent in August of last year. In April 2020, around the time the lockdowns began in the United States, the number of churches meeting in person dropped as low as 10 percent.

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Although almost all church doors are open for in-person worship, not all congregants have returned. Attendance in churches is at 85 percent of what it was in January 2020, before the lockdowns began. That’s up from 73 percent in August of 2021 and a low of 60 percent in January 2021, meaning current church attendance is at the highest level in the last two years.

Pastors aged 65 and older were more likely to report attendance between 30 to 50 percent of January 2020 levels, compared to pastors between 18 and 55 years of age who were more likely to report attendance greater than pre-lockdown levels. Female and black pastors also were more likely to report lower attendance levels than before the lockdowns. Additionally, evangelical pastors were more likely, at 29 percent, to report higher attendance compared to pre-lockdown levels than mainline pastors, at 16 percent.

The responses also varied on region and denomination, showing pastors in the Midwest and South were more likely to report higher attendance than pastors in the Northeast. Baptist, Pentecostals non-denominational pastors were more likely to report greater attendance levels compared to January 2020 than Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterian/Reformed and Christian/Church of Christ pastors.

According to a recent Pew Research study, the American Christian population could drop below 50 percent by 2070 based on current trends.

–Dwight Widaman | MV

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