Has Church Attendance Dropped During the COVID Pandemic?

This article was first published in the State of the Faith Newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox every Monday evening.

Two years after COVID-19 hit the United States, many churches are taking tentative steps to reestablish their pre-pandemic routines.

A friend of mine told me that his church sang hymns last weekend for the first time in months. The church I worshiped with on Sunday is having a coffee hour again.

More than 9 in 10 Protestant places of worship in the United States (97%) now meet in person, according to the latest research from LifeWay Search. Almost as many (86%) said they had revived in-person ministry activities for children.

“The typical church has made great strides in the past year in resuming Bible studies for all ages,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a news release.

However, the typical church is far from free of problems. Various recent research has shown that houses of worship continue to struggle with pandemic-related budget and membership issues, including emptier pews.

“There has been a drop in congregational attendance, but it is currently not as severe as one would expect or shared equally by all churches,” according to a November 2021 Report of a research project entitled “Exploring the impact of the pandemic on congregations.”

The median congregation has seen a 12% drop in attendance over the past two years, according to this report. However, the losses were concentrated in smaller churches that offered no online worship options, the researchers found.

When you consider only Protestant churches, the latest data shows that about “1 in 4 pre-pandemic congregants are still absent from in-person worship services,” LifeWay Research reported. This is one of the reasons many pastors remain nervous about what the future holds.

“We are surviving. … But we felt the pain,” the Reverend Kevin Riggs, pastor of Franklin Community Church in Tennessee, told The Associated Press earlier this year.

Fresh off the press

Term of the week: Temporary protected status

Temporary Protected Status is an immigration-related designation given to people in the United States who come from a country deemed too dangerous to return to. Factors that may lead to a TPS designation include armed conflict or environmental disaster, depending on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Last week, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine escalated, several organizations called on the Biden administration to grant temporary protected status to Ukrainian citizens who are currently in the United States. On Thursday, federal officials answered the call and announced that Ukrainians would not be deported for at least the next 18 months. My colleague, Mya Jaradat, wrote about this news and other ways American groups are trying to help Ukrainian refugees.

What I read…

Jonathan Tjarks lost his father at a young age. Now, after a frightening cancer diagnosis, he struggles with the idea that his own son might suffer the same fate. In a beautiful essay for The Ringer, Tjarks explores his diagnosis, his faith and what he wants for his son.

The Supreme Court declined the opportunity to revisit a controversial concept called the “ministerial exception” and explore how to apply it to the Christian College Background. The justices voted to allow an employment discrimination case against Gordon College, a Christian school in Massachusetts, to advance to the state level without interference from the Supreme Court, according to Christianity Today.


The Christian season of Lent began last week with Ash Wednesday and will run through Easter weekend. For a refresher on what Lent is, check out some of my previous reporting on the subject:

Jerry B. Hatch