Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, religious institutions across the United States experienced a decline of in-person attendance. While some worshipers turned to online platforms, the share of U.S. adults who regularly attend religious services at least once a month decreased. Was it different in Blair?
According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center, the share of U.S. adults who generally attend religious services once a month or more declined slightly from 33% in 2019 to 30% in 2022. Although the majority of respondents (87%) reported no change in their worship attendance rates over that period, among those who did report a change, 8% attended services less often, while 4% attended more often.
The shift toward virtual attendance was especially pronounced in the early days of the pandemic when many religious institutions were closed or limiting attendance. In July 2020, 41% of adults reported participating in religious services either in person or virtually. Of these, 27% participated only virtually, while 4% attended only in person. As the pandemic progressed and religious congregations reopened, in-person attendance rebounded while virtual attendance decreased. By November 2022, 12% of adults reported participating only virtually, while 16% attended services only in person, and an additional 12% did both.
Throughout the pandemic, White evangelical Protestants consistently had the highest rates of in-person attendance among religious groups. In the most recent survey, half of White evangelicals (52%) reported attending religious services in person. Black Protestants also experienced a significant increase in physical attendance, rising from 14% in July 2020 to 41% in the recent survey. However, Black Protestants remained the religious group most likely to participate in services virtually.
Some churches in Nebraska have observed similar trends, with some congregants continuing to prefer online worship. In the state of Nebraska, some pastors have reported a lingering drop in in-person attendance. For example, Danny Lamonte, a pastor at First Free Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, reported that 20% to 30% of his church members continue to attend services online.
In Blair, we spoke with representatives from three local churches to discuss the challenges they faced during the pandemic and their hopes for the future.
Vince Krysl, Director of Worship and Property at First Lutheran Church, shared how they adapted during the challenging times. He said, “Of course, worship attendance took a huge hit. We moved to 100% online for a long time. Over time, we adapted our services to follow recommended guidelines so that everyone could feel welcomed and safe and still be able to worship and attend milestone events like confirmation, baptisms, and the like.” Krysl also highlighted the church’s Strategic Vision Taskforce, which played a crucial role in understanding and addressing the congregation’s needs during the pandemic.
Cheryl Baron from Blair Congregational United Church of Christ shared her congregation’s experience, noting that the pandemic didn’t have a significant effect on their membership or attendance. Baron recalled, “During compatible weather, we worshiped outside in our garden area on the north side of the church. Then we moved to taping a service and showing it on Facebook and Instagram.”
Jennifer Brown, Ministry Director at Reach Church, emphasized their efforts to support the community during these difficult times. She shared, “Our primary focus was to do all we could to support our community and meet its needs. We were able to provide free lunches to area families and offer online Sunday services.” Brown mentioned that people have been returning to in-person services as they feel safe to do so.
All three churches reported resilience and optimism for the future. Krysl mentioned that there has been “a steady climb since May of last year” in attendance at First Lutheran Church. Both Brown and Baron reported that their congregations have remained consistent in numbers and engagement.
When asked what they would like people in Blair to know about their churches, all three emphasized the welcoming and inclusive nature of their congregations.
Krysl, on behalf of First Lutheran Church, shared a quote from Pastor Glen: “A grace-filled welcoming community. Dynamic spirit-filled worship. A place to live out the love of God in Jesus by serving our neighbors and the world. A community that cares.”
Jennifer Brown from Reach Church echoed this sentiment, stating, “We continue to serve our community and welcome people to Reach Church where they will encounter Jesus and have their lives changed forever.”
Cheryl Baron proudly expressed the strength of the small Blair Congregational United Church of Christ community: “We are a very welcoming group and guests and visitors are made to feel welcome! We may be small but we are mighty! All members participate in helping get things done.”
In the face of the pandemic, these three churches in Blair, Nebraska, demonstrated adaptability, a focus on community support, and a commitment to providing a welcoming environment for all.
Sources: Pew Research Center. (2022). How COVID-19 Affected Religious Service Attendance in U.S., 2020-2022. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org
journalstar.com. (n.d.). Though in-person church attendance has risen post-pandemic, some still prefer to watch online. Retrieved from https://journalstar.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/watch-now-though-in-person-church-attendance-has-risen-post-pandemic-some-still-prefer-to/article_7562dcaf-0dad-538c-b3ea-236ba33ac3c7.html
Written and Edited by Don Harrold for BlairToday – Email corrections or story ideas to email@example.com