Christian research organization Barna Group says it is likely that one in five U.S. churches will shut its doors for good because of a downturn in donations and attendance caused by the novel coronavirus.
Even in areas where shutdown orders have lifted, churches are seeing far fewer in-person attendees.
"They're recognizing that the relationships that they thought were much deeper with people were actually not as deep as they expected," Barna Group President David Kinnaman told NPR, adding that "simply reopening a church doesn't fix the underlying economic challenges that you might have."
An April poll conducted by The National Association of Evangelicals showed that 34% of churches had seen donations drop by 10-20% between mid-March and late April; 22% of churches had a drop of 30-50% or more; and 9% of churches had a drop of 75% or more.
Online church attendance continues to be very popular, Kinnaman said.
"I think this digital church is here to stay," he explained. "I think also it's really going to change the way people think about their donation relationship with local churches, as well. There'll have to be even greater demonstration of the value that a church brings not just to those who attend but also those who are part of this community."
Barna's data shows that early in the pandemic, 70% of pastors surveyed were "very confident" their churches would survive the ordeal. Recently, only 58% of pastors said the same.