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Quarter of US worshippers ‘still attend online services’

23 June 2023


ONE quarter of Americans still attend online services after the pandemic, but most say that they prefer in-person worship.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, in the United States, found that one quarter of the 11,377 adults questioned were still regularly watching religious services online or on TV at the end of last year, and were satisfied with it; but many said that they felt less connected to other worshippers when joining online.

The analysis of how Americans use technology in their religious lives was conducted on 16-17 November last — past the Covid peak, but before the declared end of the health emergency — on the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel.

About two-thirds of regular in-person churchgoers said that they felt “quite a bit” or “a great deal” of connection with others attending, while only 28 per cent of regular virtual viewers reported the same sense of connection with in-person worshippers when they watch online or on TV.

The majority of people who joined services online were doing so on their own; 51 per cent of people who joined online said that they generally watched the services alone.

Participation levels also differed for those attending online and in person. Most people said that they did not join in the singing or praying when they watched online, but normally did if attending in person.

The majority of those who joined services online said that they were continuing to do so for reasons of convenience rather than safety. Seventeen per cent continued to join online and in person. Most said that they were satisfied with the service when watching online.

The survey researchers said: “Broadly speaking, the survey finds that most Americans who watch religious services on screens are happy with them. Two-thirds of US adults who regularly stream religious services online or watch them on TV say they are either ‘extremely satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the services they see.”

The survey also highlighted that members of Black congregations were more likely to join online services — partly owing to continuing concerns about Covid, which has disproportionately affected Black communities.

Those who watched services online and attended church in person were also more likely to follow virtual services from a different church.

The survey also asked about use of other “religious technology”, such as prayer or Bible apps.

It found that members of historically Black Protestant churches (37 per cent), as well as Evangelical Protestants (28 per cent), were the most likely to engage at least weekly in technology for religious purposes, including using apps for prayer or scripture and participating in online study groups. Just 12 per cent each of Roman Catholics, Jews, and mainstream Protestants were considered heavy users of religious technology.

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