Online US church services have attracted fewer viewers than expected

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by Karen Faulkner, Worthy News Correspondent

(Worthy News) – A study has found that only 28% of Americans have watched on-line church services since coronavirus stay-at-home orders shut the majority of church doors. Conducted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the study also found the low level of viewership was despite a majority of Americans reporting they have become more religious since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

According to the AEI study, white evangelicals were the group most likely to have watched online services, with 53% of respondents saying they had. Only 36% of black Protestants said they had done so, the study reported. The study also found that 23% of respondents from other Protestant groups had joined online services, while 34% of Catholic respondents said they had.

AEI research fellow Daniel Cox told the Washington Examiner that a likely reason for the low online turnout was the inability of virtual services to provide a matching level of personal connection to that offered in physical churches. “Most of the research on social interaction and influence says that in-person interactions are more influential, meaningful, and memorable than those online. This is likely true for worship, as well,” Cox said.

A further reason for the reported numbers, Cox said, was that not everyone who goes to church attends every week: those who go to church less often would be far less likely to regularly watch an online service. Moreover, people were under less pressure to watch live-streamed services than physically go to church because fellow congregants could not see if they were viewing online or not. It was also likely, AEI found, that numbers were affected by older congregants who may not have the technology to participate online. Nevertheless, this last was not necessarily the principal explanation.

Despite such low numbers, however, the Washington Examiner reports that many evangelical Protestant churches have claimed a high level of success in transitioning to online services during the crisis.

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