Faith can prosper in online services

Faith can prosper even when the only services available are online, a new Pew Research survey shows.

Even though the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has seen places of worship in the United States – as elsewhere – close for several weeks, many have livestreamed their services online.

In April this year the Pew Research Centre (via the Roper Center) ran a survey asking Americans questions about their religious faith and how their places of worship were reacting to the pandemic.

Many respondents said their houses of worship were able to go online.

Of those affiliated with a religious tradition, 81.2 percent said their house of worship had shifted to broadcasting services over the internet. They are also reporting a larger growth in faith than those whose services have not moved to online streaming.

Of those who had moved online, 42.4 percent said their faith has grown stronger.

For those without an online service to watch, just 30.9 percent said their faith had grown stronger. Only very small shares of either group said that their faith had weakened because of the pandemic.

The survery also showed online worship is especially beneficial for those who attended services most frequently before the pandemic. At almost every attendance level, those who had said that their house of worship was streaming services online were more likely to say their faith grew than those who had no online viewing option. In most cases, the difference was 10 percentage points.

The survey reduced fears that age or economic disadvantages have created large demographic disparities when it comes to accessing streaming services. For instance, those aged 65 and older were as likely to say their institution was streaming services as the youngest respondents in the sample. Only African Americans as a group were slightly less likely to say their churches were online, compared with white and Hispanic respondents.

Some differences based on education were noted. More highly educated respondents were sic points more likely to have streaming services than those with a high school diploma or less. Evangelical churches were nearly 10 points more likely to go online than Catholic parishes.

In essence, many houses of worship are still providing spiritual care for their members and many have benefited from virtual services, especially those who are regular attendees.


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