Fewer Christians are attending and engaging with church services during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings in a recent survey.
Around one in five churchgoers in the United States say they haven't attended any online or in person church services since COVID-19, the Christian Post reports.
Barna Research, who conducted the survey, found that prior to the pandemic, all practicing Christians and most churched adults had reported they had attended at least one church service in the past six months.
Savannah Kimberlin, director of published research for Barna Research, says the pandemic has accelerated the decline in church attendance.
Kimberlin says some of the decrease may be a result of elderly people feeling uncomfortable with online services and being unable to attend in person due to COVID-19 restrictions. She feels, however, there must be another major contributor to the decrease.
General church engagement has seen a decline over the past decade, Kiberlin says. The recent decrease in attendance follows the decline that began in 2008 and has increased the trend.
"Right in 2008, 2009 and 2010, a downward trend started; something shifted in our nation," she says.
Regarding the pandemic's impact: "It’s almost as if the disruption multiplied overnight. Five years of disruption has happened over the course of five months," says Kimberlin.
1,302 American adults were sampled for the survey in September. The survey also considered a split between practicing Christians and adults who had grown up attending church services.
Among all American adults, 53 per cent said they never attended church in any form during the pandemic. Only 19 per cent say they attend weekly.
Prior to the pandemic, around 80 per cent of all practicing Christians said they had attended church within the past month.
There is some discrepancy noted in the survey results associated with the word "attend." Some respondents who reported they did not attend services did report they had "watched" a church service online.
53 per cent of adults who responded they hadn't attended church also stated they watched online services.
About 18 per cent of respondents who were practicing Christians said they watched a church service online.
"What we decided is it really all comes down to engagement. Are you consuming a service passively or are you feeling connected to your community? Do you feel present and invested as a congregant?" says Kimberlin.
Personal participation was low, the study found, without the experience of standing alongside other believers in person. Only 40 per cent of practicing Christians reported they sang along with worship. 64 per cent reported they pray with leaders and 42 per cent watch online services with their family.
"We will have to wait and see if the people who have pulled away from church will come back (after the pandemic," Kimberlin says.