One-third of all practicing Christians haven't been watching either their own church online or another church's streaming worship services since the state lockdowns in response to the coronavirus, new research reveals.
According to recent surveys from Barna, researchers identified a number of types of churchgoers in the digital church era: Christians who streamed their home church online, Christians who streamed a differing church, Christians who stopped "attending" church.
In a more in-depth examination of those groups released Wednesday, researchers found significant generational divides, noting that half of practicing Christian millennials had not attended church in the past four weeks. By contrast, only 35% of Gen X Christians and 26% of Baby Boomer Christians had foregone digital church attendance.
The Elder and Boomer groups combined comprise 56% of the Christian population in the U.S., data show.
"Though younger generations might be more accustomed to digital routines and innovations, their tenuous relationship with institutions seems to persist during this era of digital church," the Barna report said.
"These trends highlight the importance of churches continuing to reach out to and disciple the next generation, especially those who are seemingly falling away during the pandemic."
The data also revealed that only 14% of practicing Christians made a church switch during the pandemic. Some 18% of practicing Christians report viewing worship services from multiple churches throughout the month.
For practicing Christians who have either lessened or stopped participating in digital services, the results show what Barna refers to as "individual flourishing" being hindered.
"Respondents who have stopped attending church during COVID-19 are less likely than their peers who are still attending the same church during the pandemic to agree with the statement 'I am not anxious about my life, as I have an inner peace from God' (76% vs. 87%)," the group reported.
"Practicing Christians who have stopped attending church in recent weeks are more likely than all other practicing Christians to say they feel bored 'all of the time' (17% vs. 6%) or that they have felt 'insecure' for at least some of each day (11% vs. 7%)."
In May, Barna hosted a webcast in which the group's President David Kinnaman emphasized how COVID-19 has accelerated the disruptions that were already in motion in society, accentuating an existing sense of cultural chaos. Thus, churches will have to pivot strategically to meet emerging needs in response to such significant changes.
"We're not going back to normal,'" Kinnaman said at the time, regarding the future of church-based ministry.
"I think we're going to see is a really interesting sort of 'new normal,' a lot of deep disruptions that are going to take place over many months and maybe even many years," he said.
Theologian and North Park University professor Soong-Chan Rah added in the webcast: "I think part of the benefit of a crisis is that it reveals the flaws and the weaknesses that we've tolerated over the years. We've allowed these flaws and weaknesses to scar over and we've ignored some of the pain that's underneath the surface, and we've gone along on our merry way. But once a crisis like COVID-19 hits, we're actually forced to confront some of these challenges that we've allowed to fester for many, many years."