Places of Worship Across the United States Struggle to Restore Attendance | Covid19


When Westminster United Methodist Church in Houston resumed in-person services late last year, after a seven-month hiatus due to COVID-19, there were Sundays where only three worshipers showed up, according to pastor, Meredith Mills.

Attendance has increased slightly since then, but it’s still only about half the pre-pandemic turnout of 160 or 170, Mills estimates.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “People seem to want to leave home less these days. “

Some places of worship are doing better than Mills Church, others less well. Surveys from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research show how church attendance has plummeted at the worst of the pandemic last year, though many say they are now returning to regular attendance.

Among mainline Protestants, only 1% said in a May 2020 poll that they attend in-person services at least once a week. In the new poll, 14% say they are doing it now, compared to 16% who say they did it in 2019.

Among evangelical Protestants, 37% now report attending in-person services at least once a week, while 42% said they did so in 2019. In the May 2020 survey, only 11% reported attending services. in-person services as often.

Among Catholics, 26% attend in person at least once a week now, up from 30% in 2019. In the 2020 poll, conducted as many bishops temporarily waived the requirement to attend weekly Mass, only 5% worshiped in person at least once a week.

At St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Brunswick, Ohio, the six services each weekend drew a total of about 3,800 worshipers before the pandemic, according to pastor Bob Stec. Current weekend attendance is around 2,800, Stec says, with 1,600 or more households joining the worship service online.

Elsewhere, churches large and small have taken attendance hits.

John Elkins, a pastor teaching at the Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria, Texas, said 25 to 30 people have attended services recently, up from about 50 before the pandemic.

“For some, I was not political enough,” he said by email. “Some wanted more activities, others just stopped going to church. “

Sovereign Grace, a Southern Baptist church, had never offered worship services online before the pandemic.

When in-person worship was cut short for a month in 2020, leaving online worship as the only option, Elkins said he was offering more crisis counseling to members of the congregation than ever before.

In the much larger First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, there was an almost total cessation of in-person worship between March 2020 and September of this year. On two Sundays in September 2020, worshipers were invited to return to church to test the feasibility of in-person services.

“But it was obvious they were still uncomfortable – they came dressed as if they were working at Chernobyl,” Senior Pastor Bishop Timothy Clarke said of hazmat suits. appropriate to deal with a nuclear disaster.

Before the pandemic, the predominantly African-American church held three services every weekend, including one on Saturday evening, with an average total attendance of 2,500 people. Now there is only one service on Sunday and only 500 worshipers – with masks and proof of vaccination – are allowed to enter a sanctuary that can accommodate more than 1,500 people.

Among Christians, the option of online worship has been adopted by many evangelical Protestants, according to the AP-NORC poll. About 3 in 10 people have broadcast live services at least once a week in recent months, compared to about 1 in 10 Catholic or Protestant.

According to the poll, three-quarters of evangelical Protestants say they pray privately at least once a week, compared to about half of Protestants and mainline Catholics.

About a quarter of evangelical Protestants report having recently spoken by phone or video conference with a religious or spiritual leader at least a few times a month, compared to about 1 in 10 Protestants and Catholics.

Some religious leaders, like Meredith Mills, see bright spots, like more energy in the church, even with fewer worshipers.

“Those who are showing up right now are the ones who really want to be there,” she said. “There is a lot of joy in the room on Sunday morning. This is one of the reasons why, despite everything, I still love my job.

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