While a majority of U.S. adults who worship virtually say they are “highly satisfied,” most still prefer in-person worship services, though a significant minority has adapted to worshiping virtually exclusively, a new study from the Pew Research Center shows.
The study was based on data collected by the Pew Research Center from a nationally representative sample of 11,377 respondents from Nov. 16-27, 2022.
“Broadly speaking, the survey finds that most Americans who watch religious services on screens are happy with them. Two-thirds of U.S. adults who regularly stream religious services online or watch them on TV say they are either ‘extremely satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the services they see,” researchers wrote.
“At the same time, Americans tend to give higher marks to worshipping together in person. While majorities express satisfaction with virtual services, even bigger shares of physical attenders say they feel extremely or very satisfied,” they added.
While 68% of U.S. adults who watch services online or on TV reported being extremely or very satisfied with the sermons at those services, 74% of those who attended in person reported the same. Some 54% of worshipers who watch services online or on TV said they were extremely or very satisfied with the music at those services, while 69% of those who attend in person reported similar levels of satisfaction.
Persons who attended church services in person, however, reported a stronger connection with other worshipers. Among those who watch services online or on TV, only 28% report that they “feel a great deal/quite a bit of connection to other people attending in person.” Some 65% of those who attend in person say they “feel a great deal/quite a bit of connection to other people attending in person.”
The study shows that 57% of U.S. adults do not participate in religious services remotely or in person. Among those that still participate in religious services, the Pew Research Center data show that 27% of U.S. adults still watch religious services remotely even as the COVID-19 pandemic has waned.
A further breakdown of remote worshipers shows that 10% of that crowd does not regularly attend in person services, while 17% attend worship services regularly in addition to their activities online. Among those who worship online and in person, 76% say they prefer in-person services compared to 11% who report a preference for virtual services. Another 14% say they have no preference.
While respondents in the survey gave many reasons for remote worship, convenience was the most commonly cited reason for going digital.
Researchers found that among the various church communities, members of historically black churches are the most likely group to report participating in virtual church services.
“While 13% of Protestants who belong to historically black churches say they attend church in person and don’t regularly watch services virtually, most say they join services both in person and virtually (37%) or only watch remotely on screens (20%),” they explain.
“Part of the reason is continuing concern about COVID-19, which struck black communities with particular force. The survey also shows that viewers who are members of historically black Protestant churches are more likely to say they feel like active participants in these virtual services than are viewers who belong to some other faiths.”