2022 Vital Stats for Ministry

91% of churchgoers said they plan to return

At the beginning of 2021, more than 9 in 10 pre-COVID churchgoers said they planned to attend in-person services as much or more than they did prior to the pandemic when COVID-19 is no longer an active threat to people’s health, according to Lifeway Research. Recent variants have complicated the issue, and as of late last year, the average church is still missing 1 in 4 churchgoers. There are steps churches can take to recover the missing, but this reality is shaping up to be the primary issue for 2022.

63% of Americans identify as Christian

That marks a 15-point drop in the past 14 years according to Pew Research, as 78% called themselves Christian in 2007. The decline of Christians in the U.S. has been matched by a rise in the religiously unaffiliated. Their number has almost doubled since 2007—from 16% to 29%.

41% of Americans say the Son of God existed before Jesus was born

Most Americans (80%) agree Jesus Christ is the Son of God the Father, according to Lifeway Research, but half that believe the Son of God existed prior to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. The 2020 State of Theology Study showed that 72% of Americans believe there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. However, Americans, including many churchgoers, remain confused about the Trinity and could use some help from their pastors.

1 in 6 young adults identify as LGTBQ

Few American adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (5.6%), according to Gallup, but the numbers are much higher among younger generations (15.9% of Gen Z). Almost every Christian student will have an LGBTQ friend or classmate, so church leaders must speak on issues of sexuality with truth and love.

47% of Americans are members of a house of worship

Less than half of Americans say they belong to a house of worship, marking the first time, since Gallup began collecting data in 1937, a majority aren’t part of a church, synagogue, or mosque. Religious membership was stable throughout the 20th century but fell from 70% in 2000 to 47% in 2020.

Adding online giving increases per capita giving of regular participants by $300 annually

Among churches that offered online giving, the average congregation saw almost 1 in 4 of their people (23%) use the option. Those churches also reported receiving an average of 22% of their regular monthly donations through online giving. The Faith Communities Today report found that by merely adding an online giving option, the average church will gain an extra $300 per year per regular churchgoer.

4,500 U.S. Protestant churches closed in 2019

U.S. Protestant churches endured a difficult 2020, including starting the year with fewer congregations. In 2019, approximately 3,000 Protestant churches were started in the U.S., but 4,500 Protestant churches closed, according to estimates from Lifeway Research.

 

57% of Americans think at least monthly about how they can find more meaning and purpose

Americans’ perspective is shifting on some of the most significant questions facing humanity. Lifeway Research finds, compared to a decade ago, U.S. adults today are more likely to regularly wonder about meaning and purpose in this life but less likely to strongly believe finding a higher meaning and purpose is important. Americans are also more likely to contemplate whether they will go to heaven when they die but less likely to strongly believe there is more to life than this physical world.

37% of Americans have confidence in the church

Americans’ confidence in major U.S. institutions—including the church—fell in 2021, after a brief increase during the 2020 pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, Americans who expressed confidence in the church as an institution grew from a historic low of 36% to 42%, according to Gallup. However, that number dropped back down to 37% in 2021.

Churchgoers are twice as likely as the average American to be 65 and older

Since 2008, the average percentage of senior participants in congregations (65 and older) has risen 5%, according to the latest Faith Communities Today study. While this aging trend mirrors a similar one in the U.S. population as a whole, churchgoers are twice as likely to be 65 and older. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, 17% of Americans are 65 and older. In FACT’s study, 33% of U.S. congregations are senior citizens. Not only are congregations growing older, so are their leaders. The average clergy member is 57 today compared to 50 in 2000, according to the FACT study.

53% of Americans say churches in their community were helpful during the pandemic

Many Americans found themselves in need, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant loss of life, medical burdens and business closures. Most say local churches were helpful during this difficult season. Lifeway Research found 53% of Americans say churches in their community have been helpful during the coronavirus pandemic, with 27% saying congregations were very helpful. Few (7%) found local churches to be hurtful, but a sizable number say they were neither helpful nor hurtful (23%) or weren’t sure (16%).

15% of Americans say they normally don’t attend church services but watched an online service during the pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, online worship services were a novel concept for many churches. In the almost two years since, however, churches have adapted and reached new people with the adoption of digital streaming.

According to Lifeway Research, 45% of Americans say they have watched a Christian church service online during the COVID-19 pandemic, including some who say they don’t normally physically attend. “It’s not surprising to see churchgoers using online options to view a church service, but there are also those who have not been church attendees who have at least checked out a church service during the pandemic,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.