Church attendance in U.S. Protestant churches remains below pre-pandemic rates, even as in-person gatherings have returned to January 2020 levels, according to a LifeWay Research report published Nov. 2.
Nearly every Protestant congregation held in-person meetings in March 2020, but by April only 10% were doing so. The numbers began increasing in May, when 44% reported an in-person meeting that month, rising to 70% by June, 75% by July and 87% by September.
Increases in COVID-19 cases due to variants brought in-person gathering back down to 76% by January 2021, but since then they have been steadily increasing to the point that 98% of surveyed churches had met in person by August 2021.
While in-person gatherings are back to near pre-pandemic levels, attendance has not rebounded to the same degree.
Lifeway found that only 22% of churches reported in August that their attendance levels were 90% or above the levels in January 2020.
By comparison, 30% reported attendance between 70-90% of pre-pandemic levels, 35% attendance between 50-70%, 9% attendance between 30-50% and 4% attendance 30% or less.
A majority (73%) of churches reported attendance levels of 99 people or less – 40% had 49 or fewer and 33% between 50 and 99. By comparison, 22% reported attendance of 100-249 people and 6% attendance of 250 or more.
“Many pastors and church leaders are anxious for the whole congregation to gather physically together,” Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said in a press release announcing the report. “Worship attendance is improving, but there is still a large gap between today’s in-person attendance and pre-COVID levels.”
The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.2%. The full report is available here.