Worshipers went online, but will they stay there?

When the novel coronavirus pandemic implanted itself into humanity there was a rush to online worship, evoking all sorts of predictions about how people would change the way they go pray.

A new piece of research by Pew on Aug. 17 showed that one-third of U.S. adults have watched religious services online or on television in the past month.

A little over half of them – or 18 percent of all adults – say they began doing this for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of course, if you’re worshipping remotely, you can’t hug the other members of your congregation or shake hands with your minister, priest, rabbi or imam,” writes Alan Cooperman in the Pew analysis.

“But you can wear whatever clothes you want, turn up (or down) the volume, forget about traffic in the parking lot, and easily check out that service you’ve heard about in a congregation across town or even across the country.”


Pew finds that whatever the reasons, lots of people like virtual worship.

Nine out of 10 Americans who have watched services online or on TV in the past month say they are either “very” satisfied (54 percent) or “somewhat” satisfied (37 percent) with the experience/

A mere 8 percent say they are “not too” or “not at all” satisfied, according to the Pew Research Center survey conducted in mid-July.

So what does this bode for the future?

By the time the COVID-19 pandemic has finally run its course, will Americans have lost the habit of going in person to a church, synagogue, temple or mosque? Asks Pew.

Some commentators have suggested that just as the pandemic has accelerated the trend toward shopping online and made Americans reliant on the internet for work, school, health and entertainment, so might many, if not all, varieties of religious experience move online in the 21st century.

But the Pew survey says that’s not what the people who’ve been worshipping online see in their future.

On the contrary, most U.S. adults overall say that when the pandemic is over, they expect to go back to attending religious services in person as often as they did before the coronavirus outbreak.

The reality is that few expect the pandemic to permanently alter their religious worship routines.

The survey dound that a substantial share of Americans (43 percent) say they didn’t attend religious services in person before the pandemic struck and they don’t plan to start going to a church or other house of worship when it’s all over.

But 42 percent of U.S. adults say they plan to resume going to religious services about as often as they did before the outbreak, while 10 percent say they will go more often than they used to, and just 5 percent expect to go less often.

Similarly, many Americans are not interested in virtual services.

Two-thirds of U.S. adults say they have not watched religious services online or on TV in the past month.

But among one-third of U.S. adults who recently watched services online or on TV, relatively few (19 percent of this group, or 6 percent of all adults) say that once the pandemic is over, they intend to watch religious services more often than they did before it started.


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