Church Decline and Recovery During COVID-19

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A national project aims to understand the impact of the pandemic on church attendance.

Are people going to return to church after COVID?” This question, on the minds of pastors everywhere, is at the heart of the National COVID-19 Church Attendance Project (NCCAP). Posed directly to one of us by his brother, a pastor himself, it served as the genesis for this project.

Most of us are aware of the effects of COVID on our home church. Many of us have heard accounts of various other churches through conversations with friends and colleagues. But it is hard to know what these individual stories mean for the church as a whole.

The NCCAP represents our efforts to try to see the bigger picture. By gathering as many individual church stories as possible, from all over the country, we aim to provide a broad sense of the impact of COVID on attendance and what the path to recovery has looked like for churches so far. Through the collaboration of Wheaton College, Exponential, Outreach, and the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, our initial survey represents the experience of more than 600 churches, over 400,000 weekly worshippers geographically covering 47 states and the District of Colombia.

We hope you will join us as we unpack our initial findings. In this article, we will provide an overview of our findings regarding church attendance patterns over the past year and a half. Our second article will reflect on church giving and staffing and our final installment of this three-part series will focus on church leadership and priorities at present and looking forward.

The disruption in church attendance patterns is astounding. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing policy responses resulted in significant and rapid changes in church attendance patterns.

As a macroeconomist who studies movements in aggregate variables, …

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