A recent study examining the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on church attendance in the U.S. has revealed that the pandemic “resulted in an overall depression of religious participation” as approximately a third of Americans have stopped attending religious services.
The study, titled “Faith After the Pandemic: How COVID-19 Changed American Religion,” was conducted by the Survey on American Life with the American Enterprise Institute and also found that young adults aged 18 to 29 showed the greatest drop-off in religious attendance of all age groups.
In the survey that included Jews and Mormons, 13% of Americans attended in-person worship services during the summer of 2020, according to the survey. That number increased to 27% in the spring of 2022, but remains lower than the pre-pandemic attendance rate.
The survey also found that in the spring of 2022, 33% of Americans reported that they never attend religious services, compared to 25% before the pandemic. The study notes that only a small percentage of the most religiously engaged Americans are part of this group.
The greatest declines in attendance between the two periods were among adults under 50, those with a college degree or less, Hispanic Roman Catholics, Black Protestants and White mainline Protestants.
The largest increases in attendance were observed among adults aged 30-49, those without a college degree and Black Protestants. In both 2020 and 2022, conservatives, adults over 50, women, married adults and those with a college degree were more likely to attend religious services than other groups.
The survey found that 58% of young adults reported the same level of religious attendance in spring 2022 as before the pandemic. Around 30% of young adults are attending religious services less often now, but only 12% are more active. By comparison, 75% of seniors are attending religious services as frequently as before the pandemic, while 16% are attending less frequently and 9% are more involved.
“Rather than completely upending established patterns, the pandemic accelerated ongoing trends in religious change,” the researchers said. “Young people, those who are single, and self-identified liberals ceased attending religious services at all at much higher rates than other Americans did.”
Despite declining church attendance, the study noted that religious identity among U.S. adults remained largely unchanged during the pandemic.
The researchers added that “the post-pandemic religious decline may portend increasing religious polarization, with more Americans either very religiously active or completely inactive. The surveys reveal little change among those who regularly attend. Very few Americans who were most active in their places of worship before the pandemic have since left. However, those who were attending infrequently–attending just a few times a year–dropped at a much higher rate.”
A report by Pew Research Center and the General Social Survey published in September found a skyrocketing number of Americans are leaving Christianity to become atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
The study predicted that if the number of Christians under 30 abandoning their faith accelerates beyond the current pace, adherents of the historically dominant religion of the U.S. could become a minority by 2045.
As the number of the faithful declines, recent data also suggests those in the ministry have been stretched thin to the point of burnout.
A study of Protestant pastors conducted in March 2022 by the faith-based research organization Barna Group showed that rates of burnout among pastors rose dramatically between 2021 and 2022, with a staggering 42% of ministers wondering if they should abandon their vocation altogether.