Coronavirus causing Americans to pray more, new study says

Worshipers at the Ignite Outreach in Arkansas in April 2019.
Worshipers at the Ignite Outreach in Arkansas in April 2019. | Photo: Vitaly Manzuk

While the new coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many churches closing their doors in the name of social distancing, a new survey of more than 11,000 U.S. adults shows that the disease has also inspired more than half of them to pray.

The Pew Research Center survey of 11,537 U.S. adults conducted March 19-24 shows that some 55% of them say they have prayed for an end to the spread of coronavirus.

Among Americans who reported praying daily, some 86% of them reported praying for an end to the coronavirus while 73% of those who identify as Christians say they have been praying during the pandemic. Even among those who seldom or never pray, 15% said they have been praying for an end to the coronavirus while 24% of those who do not belong to any religion say they have been praying.

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The increased prayer comes even though, according to the survey, 59% of the respondents who previously attended church about once or twice per month said they haven’t attended church during the coronavirus outbreak.

It was noted that while they no longer gather in a physical space, many people of faith have been engaging virtually. About four-in-10 regular worshipers appear to have replaced in-person attendance with virtual worship, saying that they have been attending less often but watching online instead, the study said.

The findings of the study on the shift in the prayer lives of Americans is also consistent with the findings of another recent study In Crisis, We Pray: Religiosity and the COVID-19 Pandemic, by Jeanet Sinding Bentzen, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and executive director of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture.

 Bentzen analyzed internet searches for prayer in 75 countries and reported that “search intensity for prayer doubles for every 80,000 new registered cases of COVID-19.”

Most U.S. Christians say they have prayed for an end to virus

“In times of crisis, humans have a tendency to turn to religion for stress relief and explanation. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is no exception,” wrote Bentzen in the Abstract. “I document that Google searches on prayer has skyrocketed during the month of March 2020 when the COVID-19 went global.”

Bentzen found that during March, internet searches for prayer “surged to the highest level during the past five years for which comparative Google search data is available, surpassing all other major events that otherwise instigate intensified demand for prayer, such as Christmas, Easter, and Ramadan.”

Almost 90% of U.S. adults also noted that their life has changed a little since the coronavirus outbreak, while 44% said it changed their life in a major way.

A majority now feel uncomfortable doing things like attending a crowded party, eating out at a restaurant, or even going to a polling place to vote. Some 42% also expressed discomfort at going to the grocery store.

Some 40% of adults age 18 to 64 have also reported working from home as a result of the coronavirus. A majority of adults with a college degree or higher or workers with higher incomes also reported they were working from home.

For a majority of adults with children younger than 12, however, many say the ability to work from home has helped them better manage child care responsibilities.

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