During the height of the pandemic when things were pretty much locked down and all but essential workers were required to work from home, there was considerable speculation as to whether some of the changes in work and lifestyle might become permanent. Particularly in the case of work, many people found the absence of a tedious commute a very positive benefit. Some business found that they could dispense with the offices in city centers for which they were paying high rents. As a result, there was speculation that some employers might continue the practice even after things opened up, adopting at least a hybrid model of some days at home and some in office. It is too early to see whether those speculations will pan out or whether businesses will go back to the old ways.
When it comes to lifestyle changes, those may be more permanent. One area where there may be changes is in church attendance.
With millions of people having stayed home from places of worship during the coronavirus pandemic, struggling congregations have one key question: How many of them will return?
As the pandemic recedes in the United States and in-person services resume, worries of a deepening slide in attendance are universal.
Some houses of worship won’t make it.
In the United States, the latest challenge for places of worship comes against a backdrop of a decadeslong trend of a smaller share of the population identifying as religious.
It’s too early to know the full impact of the pandemic. Surveys do show signs of hopefulness — and also cause for concern.
About three-quarters of Americans who attended religious services in person at least monthly before the pandemic say they are likely to do so again in the next few weeks, according to a recent AP-NORC poll. That’s up slightly from the about two-thirds who said in May 2020 that they would if they were allowed to do so. But 7% said they definitely won’t be attending.
Those findings are in line with a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. residents last summer. It found that 92% of people who regularly attend religious services expected to continue at the same or higher rate, while 7% say they will attend in-person services less often.
One can understand why there might be a decline. For some, going to church is done out of habit. Once they develop new habits that do not involve attending a regular church service, they may find it hard to go back to the old ones and lose the couple of hours or so a week that they started using for other purposes.