Church Attendance Hasn't Recovered, Polls Show

People don't seem to want to leave home, pastor says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 19, 2021 1:00 PM CST
Attendance Recovers Slowly, Polls Show, at Houses of Worship
The Rev. Meredith Mills delivers a sermon last Sunday to some 30 attendants during the second service of the day at Westminster United Methodist Church in Houston.   (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

When Westminster United Methodist Church in Houston resumed in-person services late last year, after a seven-month pandemic halt, there were Sundays when only three worshippers showed up, said the pastor, Meredith Mills. Since then, attendance has inched back up, but it's still only about half the pre-pandemic turnout of 160 or 170, Mills estimates. "It's frustrating," she said, per the AP. "People just seem to want to leave home less these days." Polls by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research show how dramatically church attendance fell during the worst of the pandemic, even as many say they are now returning to regular service attendance. By denomination, the polls found:

  • Mainline Protestants: Just 1% said in May 2020 poll that they were attending in-person services at least once a week. That rose to 14% in the new poll, compared to 16% in 2019.
  • Evangelical Protestants: Now, 37% say they are attending services in person at least weekly, while 42% said so in 2019. Only 11% said they were attending services in person that often in May 2020.
  • Catholics: In the latest poll, 26% say they attend in person at least weekly, compared with 30% in 2019. In the 2020 poll, conducted as many bishops temporarily waived the obligation for weekly Mass attendance, just 5% were worshipping in person at least weekly.

At First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, there was a near-total halt to in-person worship between March 2020 and September of this year. On two Sundays in September 2020, worshippers were invited back to the church to test the feasibility of in-person services. "But it was obvious they were still uncomfortable—they came dressed like they were working at Chernobyl," said Bishop Timothy Clarke, evoking hazmat suits appropriate for confronting a nuclear disaster. The poll, conducted in late October, reports a margin of sampling error for all respondents at plus or minus 4 percentage points.

(More churches stories.)

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