Tuesday, November 16, 2021

New Report Offers First Glimpse of How U.S. Congregations Are Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic

HARTFORD, CT – In November the Hartford Institute for Religion Research released a study giving the first glimpse of how U.S. congregations are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and data shows that congregational life is far from being “back to normal.” 

The study, Navigating the Pandemic: A First Look at Congregational Responses, includes 2,074 survey responses from 38 Christian denominational groups from mid-June to the end of August 2021, and is part of a larger project entitled Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations. 

These findings from the summer clearly show that the pandemic has had a profound impact across the religious spectrum, and that some churches are faring better than others,” said Principal Investigator Scott Thumma. “The fact that 83% of churches had at least one member test positive shows that almost no congregation was spared, but over two-thirds feel they will emerge stronger than before implies these faith communities are a resilient bunch. 

Research shows 80% of churches are now offering hybrid services with both in-person and remote options, while only 15% are solely worshipping in person. However, during the height of the pandemic when people around the country were experiencing severe isolation over half of the churches surveyed (54%) reported completely discontinuing fellowship events, rather than moving them online. 

Community service activities, however, remained a thriving ministry for most churches and continued to be offered in person. Over 30% of congregations saw the need for food assistance, counseling and spiritual demands grow over the course of the pandemic. Fortunately, many congregations (41%) also saw their giving increase to help meet this growing demand. 

Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations also found the majority of clergy (62%) encouraged parishioners to get vaccinated and 28% of congregations welcomed medical personnel to address their membership. 

This is the first wave of a collaborative, five-year research project funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and led by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace (formerly Hartford International University). We will continue to release targeted analyses of more specific findings from our topical surveys breaking down how Mainline/Evangelical, multiracial, Black congregations, Latinx congregations, and churches of differing sizes are navigating the pandemic.  

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