Most Regular US Churchgoers Believe They Can Safely Attend Services

Most adults in the U.S. who say they regularly attend religious services are feeling confident that they can attend an in-person session without contracting Covid-19.

A Notre Dame University professor attributed part of the decline in U.S. church membership to ‘the allergic reaction many Americans have to the mixture of religion and conservative politics.’

(CN) — Three-quarters of adults who regularly attend church say they are confident that they can do so safety as vaccination rates rise in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a Pew Research Center study released Monday, most Americans say they are feeling better about the safety of their churches than they did last summer. But the survey of 12,055 U.S. adults found that while the situation has improved since last year, church life is still far from normal.

According to the study, 76% of U.S. adults believe they can safely attend church, which is up from 64% last July. The study also found that 42% of regular church attendees have attended church in the last month, which is up from 33%.

The study also found that many churchgoers are still watching religious services online and on television. According to the study, 65% of churchgoers watched religious services within the last month, which is down 7% from the summer.

“Roughly four-in-ten people who typically attend religious services at least once or twice a month say they actually have done so, in person, during the past month — up 9 points since last summer,” the study states. “And as in-person attendance has trended upward, there has been a corresponding decline in the share of regular religious attenders who recently have watched services streamed online or on television.”

Eight-in-ten churchgoers said that their congregations were still recording or streaming services and there are more churches that are implementing social distancing measures and requiring masks than last summer, according to the study.

Fifty-one percent of people who regularly attend religious services said their churches require masks and social distancing. Those figures are up from the summer when 45% of religious service attendees said their congregation required social distancing and 35% said their congregation required masks.

However, people are still cautious about attending a religious service during the ongoing pandemic as 58% of people who say they generally attend church at least once a month have not done so during the last month.

“Furthermore, while growing numbers of religious attenders think their congregations should be open, the clear majority continues to say that various modifications and restrictions — such as social distancing, mask-wearing and limiting the number of people who can attend at any one time — are needed to continue the fight against the spread of the virus. And these kinds of modifications remain widespread,” the study states.

The study also reported findings that attitudes and behaviors among Christian evangelical Protestants differed greatly from those of other Christians. Fifty-three percent of evangelicals had attended church in the last month, for instance, compared to 38% of Catholics and 34% of mainline Protestants who said they attended church within the last month. The study also found that only 21% of historically Black Protestants have attended church in the same period.

“More broadly, other surveys show that the coronavirus pandemic has hit communities of color especially hard. And the current survey finds that Black Americans, in particular, are cautious about returning to their congregations,” the study states. “Black Christians are less likely than White Christians and no more likely than Hispanic Christians to say they plan to go to Easter services this year, even though they are the group most likely to attend on Easter in a typical year.”

Overall, the study found that 39% of Christians plan to attend Easter service this year.

The study also found that Republicans and those who lean Republican are more comfortable returning to normal church life, reporting that Republicans who regularly attend church are more than twice as likely to have recently attended a church service in the past month compared to churchgoers who identify as or lean Democrat. Only 25% of Democrats are very confident they can safely attend in-person church services at the moment, and the study found that only 42% of Democrats who normally attend Easter service plan to do so this year.

Despite the challenges of the last year, roughly one-quarter of adults in the U.S. believe the Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened their faith. Only 4% reported that their faith has grown weaker. Black Protestants and evangelical Protestants were more likely than other Christians to respond that their faith has grown during the pandemic.

“People who were highly religious to begin with, before the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., are also the most likely to say their faith has grown because of the pandemic,” the study states. “Evangelical Protestants and people in the historically Black Protestant tradition are, on average, among the most highly religious groups in the U.S. population, while the religiously unaffiliated are among the least religious by a variety of conventional measures, including the self-assessed importance of religion in their lives.”

The self-administered web surveys, in both English and Spanish, were conducted between March 1 to March 7. The survey did not collect enough interviews with members of non-Christian religions who said in a previous survey they regularly attend religious services to be able to analyze those groups’ answers separately.  

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