A new survey from Barna Research paints a bleak outlook for churches in America, finding that nearly 1 in 5 churchgoers never attended a single service either in person or online since the beginning of the pandemic.
Barna says church engagement has suffered a marked decline, and said the explanation may originate in the older generations. Elderly people, the most susceptible to COVID-19 and thus most likely to avoid in-person services, are also less tech savvy.
But that is unlikely to be the full story, as church engagement had been declining slowly for the last decade, long before the pandemic.
"There are a lot of people who have said they've watched church but they have never attended a service digitally. It does not go the other way," Barna's director of published research Savannah Kimberlin explained. "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?"
Among those findings associated with engagement, Barna found that among online-church watchers:
- 40% sing along with worship songs
- 64% pray with leaders
- 42% watch alongside their families
Kimberlin said that the future of the church post-pandemic is very much up in the air. While some congregants have stopped attending services and may be difficult to win back, there has been a marked uptick in the number of un-churched people who are expressing a growing interest in faith.