After months of COVID-19-related restrictions compelled places of worship to suspend on-campus services across America, more than 70% of Protestant churches have cautiously resumed in-person services following the required safety measures, according to a new LifeWay Research survey.
About three months ago, in April, less than 10% of Protestant churches held in-person services, but the number climbed to more than 55% by the first weekend in June, and in July, more than 70% met physically, according to the LifeWay survey.
“While more and more churches have resumed in-person worship services, it has not always been a straight path back,” said LifeWay Research’s executive director, Scott McConnell. “Some have had difficulty resuming or had to stop meeting again as things got worse in their area.”
The study found that 99% of the churches that have reopened to meet physically indoors are taking health and safety precaution.
For example, 94% of pastors said they provided hand sanitizer, masks or gloves to those needing it, 86% conducted additional cleaning of surfaces, and 76% closed seats to increase the distance between people.
Nearly 60% or churches meeting in-person have “recommended” masks, but only about 35% “required” attendees to wear them. And more than 20% of churches that have reopened added services to allow people to spread out more, and 18% provided additional viewing rooms to do so.
Some churches also conducted temperature checks of staff and volunteers (21%), and some checked temperatures of all attendees (14%), the survey found.
“Resuming in-person worship services has not been reverting to worship as usual,” McConnell commented. “Churches are making efforts to make the environment safe, but these efforts are often second-guessed by those who either want more precautions or less restrictions.”
In late May, immediately after President Donald Trump declared churches to be essential and said they should be allowed to reopen as long as they adhere to the CDC’s health guidelines, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order and rejected an emergency motion to allow for in-person religious services to proceed in that state.
Some churches said they would continue to delay their reopening. Grace Community Church was among them and said they would “leave it in the hands of God.” Churches in California were later allowed to reopen with some restrictions.
However, in July, Newsom announced that churches, fitness centers and businesses in several industries in 30 California counties would be ordered to shut down again unless they can operate outside or through pick-up services. Various churches said they would not follow the order. Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church announced that his church would continue to hold in-person services despite the restrictions. Others, including Harvest Christian Fellowship, have chosen to hold their services outdoors in accordance with the order.
The LifeWay survey found that 5% of churches, most of them in the Northeast, have dealt with an attendee dying from the coronavirus.
In the past three months, pastors said church attendees had also dealt with reduced hours at work (74%) and losing a job (48%).
According to the survey, only 29% are holding in-person Bible studies.
Last week, the State of the Bible 2020 report released by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society also showed that the pandemic has affected Americans’ Bible engagement, with the number of U.S. adults who read Scripture declining drastically amid the outbreak.
U.S. adults who say they read the Bible daily dropped from 14% to 9% between early 2019 and 2020, the report said.