A look at post-pandemic church attendance trends

The stadium-like interior of a mega church is shown filled with people.

New research shows disagreement over COVID-19 policies drove changes in attendance, but “a lot of it is a mystery.”
After a few hard pandemic years, Paul Seay is happy to see more people coming to the two Methodist churches he pastors in Abingdon, Virginia.
Still, he can’t help but wonder, What happened to the people who never returned?
“Some had been very involved—and they’re just gone,” said Seay, who leads Charles Wesley United Methodist Church, a historically Black congregation, and Abingdon United Methodist Church, a large red brick church down the road.
At a low point, Charles Wesley had about six people in attendance. Things didn’t get quite that dire at Abingdon UMC, which had about 180 before the pandemic. But it also really struggled with the impact of COVID-19.
They weren’t alone. According to a new study on the impact of COVID-19 on the American church from ChurchSalary, a sister publication of Christianity Today, more than one in three churches saw attendance decline between 2020 and 2022. And while many, like Seay’s congregations, have seen growth since the darkest days, they still seem to be missing people.
“It was not uncommon in discussions with pastors,” the researchers found, “to hear stories of ‘a third’ or ‘half’ or ‘20%’ of a congregation not coming back once the doors reopened.”
Charles Wesley now has about 20 people on a good Sunday, and Abingdon UMC has grown to around 200. But Seay still notices the people who aren’t in the pews anymore.
“The pandemic,” he told CT, “really zapped the congregation.”
There doesn’t seem to be a single clear explanation for this. The survey of 1,164 Protestant pastors, followed by 17 focus groups and nine in-person case studies, found varied and …Continue reading…

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