New survey says religion was ‘disrupted’ by pandemic

Jan 12, 2023, 1:01 PM
Light shines through the stained glass windows in St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ogden on Tuesday, J...
Light shines through the stained glass windows in St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ogden on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Many things have shifted in the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and religion is not an exception. A new survey found that religious identity stayed stable but religious attendance experienced a decline.

Dan Cox from the Survey Center on American Life joined Inside Sources to discuss the survey and its findings.

Cox said that the survey asked 9000 Americans about their religious identity and habits pre-pandemic. Those same Americans were asked the questions once again in the spring of 2022.

Religion and identity stayed stable post-pandemic

Cox said that religious identities and affiliations, for the most part, didn’t change.

People who identified as Catholic, evangelical Protestant, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pre-pandemic still identified the same way in 2022.

“That makes a lot of sense, right? Like it was only roughly a two-year period,” Cox said. “We weren’t expecting to see any real significant shifts there.”

Religious attendance

Where the real change happened was in religious attendance, Cox said.

The survey asked participants how often they attended religious services.

“We saw a pretty significant increase in the number of people who never attend.”

According to the survey, pre-pandemic, about 25% of Americans said they didn’t ever attend religious services. But when asked again in 2022, that number jumped to 33%.

Whose habits changes?

“But one of the really interesting things that is happening and something that we’ve tracked is that these national trends aren’t affecting every group or denomination equally,” Cox said.

Those with the weakest attachment to religion are the most likely to drift away. Meaning, people who only attended religious services a few times a year were more likely to stop attending services completely. 

“The three groups that we saw with the biggest declines in attendance over the pandemic were, liberals, people who were never married and young adults — those people aged 18 to 29.”

Cox noted that there is an overlap between those groups.

On the flip side, the survey found that “Conservatives, older Americans, married adults and college-educated Americans reported less of a decline in regular worship attendance.”

The survey also noted that the decline in attendance also varied based on religion. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ, white evangelical Christians and Jews reported little decline compared to white mainline Protestants and white and Hispanic Catholics. Religious attendance also decline for those who were unaffiliated but still attended services pre-pandemic.

What does it all mean?

“What we suggest is happening because of that, is we’re seeing an increase in religious polarization,” Cox said.

There is a decline in people who are moderately religious, according to the study. This means there is both a robust, active religious population as well as a completely inactive population.

The survey concluded that the pandemic “disrupted much of American society, including religious worship.”

Listen to the full segment:


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New survey says religion was ‘disrupted’ by pandemic