Researchers suggest that vaccinations will bring church attendance back to normal.
The churches won’t be packed this Easter, but religious practice is beginning to normalize in America. A survey conducted by Pew Research found that Catholics and Christian communities have seen increased attendance since last summer. The return is marked by a growing confidence that pandemic protocols will prevent the spread of COVID-19.
According to Pew, only 5% of Catholic churches are open for Mass, which is up from 3% last July. The report, “Life in U.S. Religious Congregations Slowly Edges Back Toward Normal,” noted that 36% of Catholics said they would like to attend Easter Mass. While this shows a promising trend, it is still far below the 58% who said they would have attended on a normal year. In-person Mass attendance has risen slightly, from 32% to 38%, since the summer.
Catholics were found to be the most cautious of any Christian denomination. Nearly 70% said they support pandemic precautions, such as mask wearing and social distancing, at Mass. A further 6-in-10 said they believe that Mass attendance should be limited to prevent spreading COVID-19.
The poll also found that Catholics feel safe in church, as 76% of surveyed Catholics said they feel confident that they could safely attend church without contracting COVID-19. This figure has risen from 64% in 2020.
While the survey found that many Christians are eager to return to in-person services, it also shows that people are getting tired of watching religious services online. Across the board, members of Christian denominations reported lower virtual Mass attendance than in 2020. The largest differential was seen in Catholics, who dropped from 63% to 51% since last year. Catholics were, however, much slower to begin virtual Masses than their Protestant counterparts.
While the numbers are still low, they represent a promising trend toward increased church attendance. According to Angelus News, Senior Pew Researcher Greg Smith told CNA that attendance is expected to improve as more people get vaccinated. He said:
“You would expect the congregational situation for Catholics and other Christians to get better” with the rollout of vaccines, he added. “By the time we started rolling out these questions in March, it was a much improved situation.”