Do you remember the first Sunday your church did not have in-person services due to the pandemic? That Sunday marks the beginning point of your church’s quarantine period. For some churches, the period lasted a few months. For other churches, the quarantine lasted well over a year.
How have churches fared as they have returned to in-person services? Fortunately, we have a treasure trove of data in Faith Communities Today (FACT) studies hosted by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. FACT has been conducting studies since 2000, meaning they have an incredible amount of longitudinal research. Their latest study concluded in early 2020, meaning that most of the data they assimilated was right before the quarantine. The FACT 2020 study alone examined 15,278 congregations.
We then compared our anecdotal information from 2021 to discern where churches are today. Our information does not have the statistical reliability of the FACT 2020 study, but it is still instructive. Let’s look at five key data points.
1. Before the quarantine, the median worship attendance was 65. Today it is 55. This data point was on a precipitous decline before the pandemic. In 2000, the median worship attendance was 137. In 2010 it was 105. In 2020 it was 65. Today it is 55. Median worship attendance has declined by 60% in two decades.
2. The occupancy rate of worship centers was 33% before the quarantine. Today it is 28%. The median size of a worship center is 200. If the church has more than one service, the occupancy rate is even lower. This issue has massive implications for church facilities in the months and years ahead.
3. The median year of church founding was 1950 before the quarantine. That has not changed. Simply stated, we have not started enough churches to move the median founding date significantly in many years. New churches and new sites are imperative strategies for churches today.
4. The median income of churches was $120,000 before the quarantine. That has not changed. Most of the reports we’ve received from congregations indicate that income has held very well. That is encouraging. But we also know that a tremendous amount of liquidity was injected into the economy, benefitting both businesses and individuals. We are curious to see how churches do financially with the cash faucet turned off.
5. The percentage of churches with an attendance under 100 before the quarantine was 65%. Today it is 75%. As a point of comparison, the percentage of churches with an attendance under 100 in 2000 was 45%. We are fast becoming a nation of small churches.
Our team is especially curious to see how large churches and megachurches were affected by the pandemic. Our initial information indicates that their in-person attendance was hit hard by COVID. We need more solid quantitative data that does not include online attendance, though, before we can make any sound conclusions.
We will continue to do our own research, and we will continue to be dependent on good research such as FACT. We would welcome your input on your church as well. Let us hear from you.
Posted on March 7, 2022
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Do you have data to break down the 25% over 100 and how that has changed? You mention that mega churches may have been hit exceptionally hard … but there are a lot of steps between 100 and 2000+. It would be interesting to know if there is a “sweet spot” that seemed to fair better than others. We also know that very few churches have come out of the pandemic growing (ours is one). It would be very interesting to do case studies on them and find out what factors influenced the outcome.
For us, we believe 2 primary factors made the difference, based on comments from newcomers that have stuck:
1. We were open for in-person gatherings when many were not (outside then moved inside when we could), so we picked up many guests who just wanted a place to go, and
2. Our strong commitment to Biblical authority and preaching was in contrast to many other area churches and attracted many to not go back to previous churches (particularly with younger families looking for real meaning and a source of confident truth in life.)
Those two factors started the process. Now we are having to add improvements to children/youth, mission, leadership, discipleship, and other factors to keep the momentum going.
Do you mind expanding on #2? Does this reality mean that, on average, church attenders are less comfortable sitting as close to one another as they were pre-COVID? Or, does it mean that churches are seeing fewer people attend in-person?
Thanks for your ministry!
It is the latter. Fewer people are attending in person.
Ok, thanks. Would there be any stats out there that you are aware of that show how comfortable (or less comfortable) people are sitting as close to together post-covid? We are noticing at our church that people seem to sit further apart than two years ago and wonder if there are societal shifts in that direction? Obviously, hardly any church has ever filled every pew/chair (i.e. 80% is generally max capacity) but I’m wondering if today 60 or 70% of real capacity is actually capacity? Thoughts?
good article thank you
Small church? That’s us. Pre-pandemic our Board of Directors was 12 persons; post-pandemic: 5. I, as Secretary of Board & de facto President due to those above me not returning, and I recently sent out 2 separate letters to active members requesting their attendance, in accordance to our By-Laws, so we could conduct business that required a vote from them. Not only did they NOT show, they didn’t even respond. Mr Rainer, I’ve read several of your articles and have some questions; essentially, I’d like to pick your brain about a couple of things. Would you please contact my personal email, or even the church email, or otherwise direct me to where I can pose my questions?
Very Sincerely, Patrick
ps: default is only one valid email in the box. My personal is: [email protected]
Go to ChurchAnswers.com. There is contact information at the bottom of the home page.
Pre pandemic, we were a 425 in house attendance church.
Postpendmic – in-house attendance avg 260
We average about 36 households online vs. 5 pre pandemic.
Giving avg per week pre pandemic 13,710. Post pandemic, 13,200 per week.
Dear Mr. Rainer,
Thank You so much for all the articles and books. They have really opened my eyes as to what is going on with our churches in the past 4 decades. I am no longer in the ministry (retired), but, as a member of a SBC church of 40 we have really taken our licks in the battle.
I want to let you know how much I really appreciate whatever information and help that we can get from you and your team. We just can not afford much these days. I have read and am trying to instill at least 10 of your books information into our congregation. People are so resistant to change!
May God continue to bless you in all that you all do.
Thank you so much, Douglas. I am grateful to God for your life and ministry.