A strong majority (87%) of Protestant churches in the U.S. met in person during September, according to a LifeWay Research report published Oct. 20.
Of those meeting in person, only 15% did so with attendance levels 90% or higher than before the global pandemic. By comparison, 21% had between 70 to 90% of its pre-COVID attendance, 34% between 50 to 70%, 20% between 30 to 50% and 9% less than 30%.
“More and more churches across the U.S. have found ways to meet again, but things are not back to normal,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a press release accompanying the report. “The impact of regulations, caution and hardships mean more than 1 in 10 churches are still not meeting in person for any type of worship service. Churches are living organisms, and when more than a third of their members are missing, they are not whole.”
Majority white Protestant congregations were most likely to be meeting in person, with 60% of majority Black Protestant churches saying they had not met in person in September.
Evangelical churches were most likely to meet, with only 7% saying they did not hold in-person meetings, compared to 31% of mainline churches that did not meet in person.
Prior to the pandemic, 45% of Protestant churches in the U.S. had worship attendance levels of 100 persons or fewer. That number has jumped to 72% among those who have resumed in-person gatherings, with only 6% reporting attendance of 250 or more.
Apart from attendance, other immediate impacts of the pandemic have been to delay construction or other larger expenses (12% of churches reported doing so), eliminating a ministry area (8%), reducing staff pay or benefits (6%), eliminating a staff position (6%), reducing denominational giving (6%), ending support for a missionary or external ministry organization (5%) and finding a less expensive location for meeting (1%).
The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3.4%. The full report is available here.