Researchers and pastors say the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant drop in Christian church attendance in the United States. According to data collected by Barna Group in April and May of 2020, one in three Christians have stopped going to church since the beginning of the pandemic. Gallup researchers report that in 2020, Christian church membership dropped below 50% for the first time since 1940. In June of 2021, the Associated Press reported that many US churches closed forever because of the pandemic.
Many churches have reopened after being forced to shut down services in March of 2020. Still, some pastors say a lot of church members have not come back to in-person worship services. Mike Meshaw is the lead pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, North Carolina. Before the pandemic closed the doors of his independent evangelical church, Meshaw said about 220 people attended services each week. Since the church re-opened, weekly attendance has dropped to about 150 people. Grace Church is one of many, across the United States, that is experiencing a decline in membership as the pandemic continues.
Concerns about catching COVID, debates over wearing masks, and the opportunity to worship online – at home – are some of the reasons church members give for not coming back inside buildings. Pastor Meshaw said “One positive test and you put the information out there, and the fear multiplies into a monster, and people get shaken by it.”
Data shows the pandemic has hurt Christian church attendance across ideological and denominational lines. Conservative, moderate and liberal churches have all experienced declines in membership at a similar rate. Interestingly, Black American churches have experienced a 15% greater drop in attendance than any other racial or ethnic group.
Pastors understandably want church members to return to in-person services for their spiritual well-being. Research shows there are also social benefits from regular church attendance. According to data, regular churchgoers experience less depression, have lower suicide rates and have fewer drug and alcohol overdoses, than the general population.