By Aaron Earls
LifeWay Christian Resources
NASHVILLE — Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, churches responded to serve churchgoers in a variety of ways, and churchgoers are overwhelmingly proud of how their church handled the crisis.
According to Nashville-based LifeWay Research, almost nine in 10 Protestant churchgoers (86 percent) say they are proud of how their church has responded during the coronavirus pandemic, with 58 percent strongly agreeing. Few (9 percent) disagree.
Inversely, few (12 percent) say they are ashamed of how their church responded to the crisis. More than 84 percent disagree, with 73 percent strongly disagreeing.
Some churchgoers, however, are more likely than others to see their church’s handling as shameful. Young adult churchgoers (aged 18 to 29) are more likely to agree (26 percent).
“Pastors have heard their share of second-guessing for how they have handled their church’s response to COVID-19,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“But a large majority of churchgoers agree with their church’s various responses, and few are critical overall,” he said.
In January 2021, half of Protestant churchgoers (51 percent) didn’t attend any in-person church services. For some, that was because their congregation didn’t gather in person, which has been the case throughout the pandemic.
In late March and April of 2020, fewer than one in 10 Protestant churches held in-person services in a given week, according to a previous LifeWay Research study among pastors. By June, however, the majority of churches were gathering in person again. In September, 87 percent of churches held in-person services, but that fell to 76 percent of churches in January 2021.
In the latest study, LifeWay Research found attending in person has not been an option recently for almost a quarter of Protestant churchgoers (22 percent). One in five (20 percent) say their church stopped in-person services months ago and have not resumed, while 2 percent say they stopped for the first time recently and have not resumed.
Most churchgoers experienced some type of back-and-forth with the availability of in-person services. For 31 percent, in-person services stopped at their church for a short period of time and have since resumed. Another 22 percent say in-person services were halted for much of the year but have resumed. Around one in six (17 percent) say in-person services at their church have stopped and started more than once.
Few, only one in 20 churchgoers (5 percent), say their congregation continued to gather in person throughout the pandemic.
“The experiences of churchgoers have varied greatly, because their churches have responded differently to the impact of the pandemic on their church and local community,” said McConnell.
“(Many) churchgoers attend a church that did not offer in-person services for much of 2020. As January illustrates, just because a church offered in-person services does not mean every churchgoer was willing to participate in that way with the coronavirus still actively circulating.”
African American churchgoers are most likely to say their church stopped in-person services many months ago and have not resumed (40 percent). That matches the responses of African American pastors during the pandemic, who have been among the most likely to say their churches were not gathering in person and have been suffering during COVID-19.
In a previous LifeWay Research study, they were the most likely to say the economy is negatively impacting their church and giving has decreased.
In a September study, African American pastors were also the most likely to say they had to cut staff pay or benefits (21 percent) and delete a staff position (18 percent).
As regulations and guidelines caused many churches to cancel traditional gatherings, many got creative with the types of services they offered during the pandemic.
More than 85 percent say their church offered livestreaming of their worship service.
Of those who say their church livestreamed services, 83 percent participated in it.
Only 12 percent of churchgoers say their church didn’t offer livestreaming worship services.
Most of those who say their church offered livestreaming say they placed the video on the church website (55 percent). Half (51 percent) said the church used Facebook Live. Around a third (34 percent) said it was on YouTube. More than 1 in 5 (22 percent) say it was on a video conferencing tool like Zoom.
Around three in four churchgoers (76 percent) say their church posted videos of worship services that could be watched at any time. Among those who say their church provided this, 80 percent watched a worship service in this way. Around 15 percent say their church did not offer that.
Half of churchgoers (52 percent) say their church offered online Bible studies for adults. Most of those who say their church offered it (59 percent) participated in them. Three in 10 (29 percent) say their church didn’t offer them. Adult churchgoers under 50 are more likely to say their church offered online Bible studies and they participated in them than churchgoers 50 and older.
Two in five churchgoers (39 percent) say their church had outdoor worship services. Most of those who say their church offered it (58 percent) participated in it. More than half of all churchgoers (54 percent) say their church didn’t offer worship services outside during the pandemic.
Three in 10 (30 percent) say their church had drive-in worship services where attendees remain in the cars. B&R