During the month of April, over 90% of Protestant churches in the United States did not hold in-person worship services due to coronavirus concerns and shutdowns, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research.
In a report published last Friday, LifeWay found that only 7% of pastors reported holding in-person services on April 5 and April 12, the latter date being Easter Sunday. The number dropped to 4% on April 19 and slightly increased to 6% on April 26.
Although few of the surveyed churches held in-person worship, 97% had some type of digital alternative, a five percent increase from March.
“By the end of March, the gravity of the pandemic had changed churches’ behavior across the nation,” said LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell in a statement.
“The need for precautions did not change throughout April and churches maintained their temporary avoidance of gathering physically.”
LifeWay also found that most surveyed churches were in the process of planning out their in-person services, which were expected to return soon due to the lifting of restrictions.
The report found that nearly a third (30%) of surveyed churches were planning to hold small in-person services first, while 16% planned to resume normal activities immediately.
For their recent report, LifeWay drew their data from an online survey of 470 Protestant pastors conducted April 27-29, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.
In response to efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the vast majority of churches in the United States halted their in-person worship services, largely switching to online alternatives.
A small number of congregations continued to hold in-person services, often adding protective measures like having people sit farther apart from each other and avoiding handshakes.
As many states are looking to gradually ease restrictions on mass gatherings, many congregations are weighing how they will return to a normal worship schedule.
Last month, the conservative law firm the Liberty Counsel called upon churches to reopen on May 3, days before the annual National Day of Prayer observance.
The organization argued that churches were “more essential than ever,” but said that reopening must include “appropriate measures of sanitization” and “social distancing between families.”
“We chose May 3 because it is part of that phase one of the ‘Opening America Again’ [proposal] that the president (Donald Trump) issued as guidelines,” said Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver in an earlier interview with The Christian Post.
“That actually begins on May 1 and that is the first phase of the three-phase program and churches are included in that phase.”
Some churches did reopen on Sunday, including Fellowship Church in Texas and Champion Church in Arizona.