Monday, September 4, 2023

Report: Churches Rebounding After Pandemic, but Still Struggling in Some Areas

Hartford, Connecticut — A comprehensive report on the state of the nation’s churches reveals both positive signs of recovery and persistent challenges in the wake of the pandemic. The “Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations” study, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and led by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace (formerly Hartford Seminary), sheds light on the evolving landscape of U.S. congregations.

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In many ways, churches across the country are in a better position than they were a year or two ago. This latest research has uncovered a few encouraging rebounding changes, along with several ongoing challenges and new realities brought about by the pandemic. Clergy members are at the forefront of these shifts, with some signs of stress and exhaustion, but a closer look reveals a nuanced picture.

Positive highlights from the report indicate that:

  • Attendance is on the rise.
  • Income has seen an uptick.
  • Volunteer participation figures are increasing.
  • Conflict levels within congregations are decreasing.

However, ongoing challenges persist, including:

  • Consistent trends of growth and decline within congregations.
  • An aging demographic among clergy and congregational members. A diminishing willingness to embrace change.
  • Concerns about how to enhance engagement and belonging for primarily virtual attenders.

It’s also worth noting that while worship technology is stabilizing, congregations favor in-person worship, even as the majority of churches continue to offer virtual worship options. Additionally, there is a sense of discontent among clergy, reflecting the complex realities faced by religious institutions today.

“It is apparent that congregational dynamics are still in a state of flux,” commented project director Scott Thumma. “Churches, and especially clergy, continue in a recovery phase. Even though aspects of church life are rebounding, the destiny of many faith communities is still uncertain.”

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