Most online worshipers ‘satisfied’ but plan to return to congregations once COVID-19 passes: poll

People sit in a church.
People sit in a church. | Getty Images

Approximately 90% of religious adherents who currently watch services online or on TV said they are at least “somewhat” satisfied with the experience but a majority of them plan to return to in-person worship once the coronavirus pandemic passes, according to a new poll.

Data for the poll, conducted July 13 to July 19, 2020, by the Pew Research Center was drawn from the responses of a nationally representative panel of 10,211 randomly selected U.S. adults.

Some one-third of respondents reported that they watched religious services online or on television in the past month, and just over half of that number said they began engaging with these remote services for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Among this group of Americans, nine out of 10 said they were “very” satisfied or “somewhat” satisfied with the experience. More than half of the group, 54%, indicated that they were “very” satisfied while 37% said they were “somewhat” satisfied.

Nevertheless, most online worshipers said as soon as the pandemic is over they plan to return to in-person religious services or reduce their engagement online. This is overwhelmingly the plan particularly for respondents who previously attended congregational services at least once or twice per month. Some 92% of this group said they expect to attend physical services at least as often as they did pre-pandemic.

Some 43% of the respondents said they didn’t attend religious services pre-pandemic and have no plan to start attending even after the pandemic is over.

Just 5% said they plan on attending congregational services less often after the pandemic is over, 42% said they plan to engage at the same level as they did before the pandemic and 10% said they will attend in-person services more often.

A new Church Pulse poll that was conducted Aug. 13-17 and released by the Barna Group Tuesday also provides further insight on how churches specifically have been faring in the coronavirus pandemic.

The findings of the survey showed that as of August some 62% of churches are currently meeting in-person with precautions. Another 17% of churches said they would reopen for in-person services in November of December while 18% said they would wait until 2021. At the end of June, the share of churches that said they would delay having in-person worship services stood at just 3%.

Some 10% of church leaders were worried their church would not survive the pandemic, which represents a 5% increase over July. Online church attendance also plummeted 43%.

In May, nearly half of churchgoers said they hadn’t watched an online service in the last four weeks, and among those who did, only 40% said they watched services from their regular home church.

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