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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