Paul L. Caron

Sunday, November 14, 2021

WSJ: Churches Changed During Covid, And Many Aren’t Going Back

Following up on my previous posts (links below):  Wall Street Journal, Churches Changed During the Pandemic and Many Aren’t Going Back:

WSJAcross the country, Christian leaders are wrestling with how to keep their congregations going with fewer people showing up.

The number of churchgoers has steadily dropped in the U.S. over the past few decades. But Covid-19 and its lockdown restrictions accelerated that fall. In-person church attendance is roughly 30% to 50% lower than it was before the pandemic, estimates Barna Group, a research firm that studies faith in the U.S.

While religious leaders expect some rebound once the pandemic recedes, many don’t expect attendance to return to previous levels. That has left churches looking for different approaches to connect with existing members and attract new ones.

In Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical and other congregations, many religious leaders are laying plans for a more hybrid future with permanent online services—a shift from the in-person gatherings that have been at the core of worship for centuries.

Beyond technology, some churches are focused on boosting engagement with small gatherings of congregants for discussion groups or community service and putting more emphasis on a one-on-one relationship with God.

Barna Group’s research suggests that tens of thousands of churches are at risk of closing because of membership declines and other long-term problems that the pandemic made worse. A dip in tithes and offerings is forcing some to prepare for permanently smaller budgets, with less real estate, fewer staff members and smaller programs. ...

Some churches expect that worship will increasingly move outside their buildings and expand into new ways to meet in person. That includes so-called micro-gatherings of members of the same church, or at-home events designed to attract those who feel more comfortable in informal settings. ...

Many traditional churches say they’ll keep offering livestreamed and recorded Sunday services, but will position them as a “side door” for elderly congregants, or when members are sick or have other good reasons not to come to the building. Catholic churches, in particular, are wary of Sunday Mass moving permanently online because the church’s sacramental foundation is built on gathering in person and receiving Holy Communion.

Other churches say that virtual Sunday services have allowed them to reach worshipers across the country and are key to attracting younger members. Some Bible study groups that moved to Zoom last year plan to stay there to allow more people to participate, leaders say.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage of these New York Times and Wall Street Journal op-eds:

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