Attendance and Giving Rebound, But US Churches Still Struggling Post-Pandemic


NEW YORK — Many U.S. churches are rebounding from the pandemic, but many challenges remain, a new report reveals.

The study, funded by the Lilly Endowment and led by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, released on Monday offered a snapshot of this evolving landscape.

This latest study shows a few encouraging signs that a rebound is taking place, but challenges remain. For example, technology has allowed churches to stream services, but most favor in-person worship. At the same time, there is a sense of discontent among the clergy.

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“It is apparent that congregational dynamics are still in a state of flux,” said Scott Thumma, who directed the project. “Churches, and especially clergy, continue in a recovery phase. Even though aspects of church life are rebounding, the destiny of many faith communities is still uncertain.”

The pandemic forced churches across the country to close – either as a result of executive orders issued by governors or by judges – when in March 2020 there was a COVID-19 surge across the world. In the United States, public worship was deemed a non-essential activity in most states, while casinos and liquor stores remained open. Even when coronavirus numbers dropped, masking, social distancing and the ability to attend church virtually led to attendance drops.

But the 16-page report pointed to several positive signs, including a rise in attendance, an uptick in donations and more people volunteering within their church communities. The challenges, on the other hand, include an aging demographic among clergy and congregants, a lack of willingness to embrace change and concerns about how to integrate those who attend still insist on attending virtually.

The report — based on 58 Christian denominational groups and 4,809 responses — was conducted via an online survey throughout the first five months of this year. To track comparisons, this latest survey draws on three prior reports from the summer of 2021, winter of 2021 and spring of 2022.

Challenges continue given a late summer COVID surge with hospitalizations up and some people masking again. Both are a reminder that the virus remains a concern.

Attendance and income up, but …

Using a different way of measuring by looking at attendance change from 2020 to 2023, and overall, these churches are on average 9% below their pre-pandemic worship size. But, attendance patterns vary widely depending on the congregation.

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