UK and US surveys confirm attending Sunday services is “less of a priority” for many Christians
Researchers found that 40% of the UK Christian families have less engagement with their church since the pandemic. Current attendance in US churches is at 85%.
LifeWay Research, Liverpool Hope University · 16 NOVEMBER 2022 · 15:51 CET
Recent studies show that Sunday church attendance has dropped in the UK and US churches after the coronavius pandemic.
UK: Less families engage with church
According to a new survey by Liverpool Hope University, the National Institute for Christian Education Research, Care for the Family, UK Evangelical Alliance, Hope Together, Parenting for Faith, and Share Jesus International, Sunday church attendance has become “less of a priority” for British families since the pandemic.
It reveals that for four in ten families surveyed the engagement with the church had decreased.
When researchers asked families about their engagement with their local church, 44% said it had remained the same, 40% that it had reduced, and 16% that it had increased.
Meanwhile, almost half (48%) of the church leaders surveyed responded that the families now engage less with their local church; 26% said they had remained similar and 24% believed that it had increased.
“Considering that the willingness of these families to respond to the survey indicates that they are likely to be more engaged than average, it is concerning to see that a significant proportion of the participants have decreased church engagement over pandemic times”, pointed out the authors of the survey.
Child care, a key reason
Despite the decrease, the survey states that “families' faith at home has tended to improve”, but “there is a significant disconnect between the perceptions of church leaders and parents about what is needed going forward”.
“The parents interviewed explained that it had been difficult returning to church after the lockdowns […] and having engaged with faith at home resources, they became more aware and critical of provision for children at church”, said the report.
It also warned that one of the reasons of the dropping is that “many felt that their congregation had become less tolerant of children” , so that churches “must consider how to respond to this change in family's ethos and practices”.
“It is key to meet families where they are and support those spiritual connections which occur at home rather than simply seeking to coax them back into church attendance”, conclude the authors.
US: Church attendance below pre-pandemic levels
A Lifeway Research survey recently released shows that, although since August 2022 almost all of US Protestant churches are holding in-person services, the attendance is still short of pre-pandemic levels.
According to the survey, “on average, US Protestant churches report current attendance at 85% of their typical Sunday morning crowds in January 2020, prior to the COVID-19”.
“While masks began to rapidly disappear in many settings in 2022, churchgoers have not reappeared quite as fast”, said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.
Despite not achieving a full return, that is the highest attendance levels in over two years. Attendance was 63% in September 2020, 73% by August 2021, rising another 12 percentage points this year.
“While some pre-Covid churchgoers have not returned to church at all, much of the decline in attendance is from people who were attending less often”, pointed out McConnell.
Researchers underlined that a previous Lifeway study found that before Covid, 34% of Christians attended a worship service four times a month or more and 36% less than once a month, while this new survey shows the former has dropped to 26% and the latter has risen to 43%.
“As has been the case since Covid began, different churches are having different experiences. Over a third are at 90% or more of pre-pandemic attendance. Over another third are stuck with less than 70% of their people back on a typical Sunday. And, just under a third are in between 70% and less than 90% attending”, explained McConnell.
Fewer US churches hitting 100 people
Now, 68% of US Protestant churches have congregations of fewer than 100 people, including 31% which have fewer than 50.
Almost a quarter (24%) fall into the 100-249 range, while 8% host 250 people or more each week.
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