There are fewer Protestant congregations in the U.S. meeting in-person to start 2021 than there were in the early fall of 2020, according to a LifeWay Research report published February 22.

Roughly three-quarters (76%) of pastors said their church met in-person in January 2021, an 11-point decline from September 2020.

A majority (68%) have attendance levels well below their pre-pandemic rates.

Roughly one-third (37%) reported attendance of 50-70% lower than before COVID-19, while 31% reported attendance of less than 50% and 8% less than 30% pre-pandemic. By comparison, 32% said attendance levels were 70% or higher than before the pandemic.

Early 2021 saw a spike in ministers who reported cases of COVID-19 among their congregation, with 88% saying they have had members diagnosed (up from 28% in July 2020). Nearly one-third (29%) had a member die from COVID-19, up from 5% last summer.

With most congregations shifting to online services during the pandemic, 88% of respondents said they have had people connect with their church virtually who had never attended before.

Evangelical churches are more likely than Mainline congregations to be meeting in person and to have small groups doing so.

Only 12% of evangelical ministers said their churches did not meet in person in January 2021 and only 26% that their small groups were not meeting in person, compared to 39% and 56%, respectively, of Mainline pastors.

The margin of error is plus-or-minus 6.2%.

The full report is available here. The topline results are available here.

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