CHURCH attendance has fallen by a third since before the pandemic. Many regular worshippers have been attending only monthly since in-person services resumed this summer, a new study suggests.
For its report Changing Church, the Evangelical Alliance surveyed 552 church leaders and 1676 church members, over ten days in October. Congregation sizes varied from fewer than 50 people to more than 150; both smaller and larger congregations reported a decline in attendance.
Most churches are now offering in-person services, although many also continue to offer online services. Average attendance has fallen by 32 per cent, the study finds; but much of this could be because worshippers attend less regularly rather than not at all.
Of individual respondents, 92 per cent reported attending church services weekly before the pandemic, compared with 68 per cent last month. Fortnightly and monthly church attendance, however, has increased by 16 per cent; four per cent reported that they attended church at least once in the past month. Just three per cent said that they were no longer attending any church.
The decline in regular attendance is also reflected in volunteering and financial giving. Nearly two-thirds of church leaders reported a reduction in both, and most expected a further decline in giving over the next few months.
Youth and children’s ministry has also been significantly reduced from pre-pandemic levels. A quarter of churches reported that they were no longer offering youth ministry, and 17 per cent were no longer offering any children’s ministry.
The lead theology researcher at the Evangelical Alliance, Rich Powney, said: “The Church continues to face a changing, and at times challenging, landscape. Yet this is also an opportunity to reflect and reset, to ask strategic conversations and hold formative conversations as we learn some lessons from lockdown. As we do this, let’s pray that we all remain committed to making Jesus known through our words and actions.”
The research was conducted by the Evangelical Alliance in collaboration with Eido Research and the Christian-giving charity Stewardship.
The chief executive of Stewardship, Stewart McCulloch, said: “The committed core of those who give to the church regularly have largely maintained or increased their giving through the pandemic, with some even moving their strong commitment to cash giving online.
“However, cash collections and event fund-raising, by necessity, stopped for a season; so, like other areas of ministry, these need to be actively restarted to become a habit again.
“Falls in attendance have brought a financial toll as well, but the solution here is not financial, but evangelistic.”