A third of practising Christians have not been engaging with online church services since the start of lockdown, according to a new study from US faith-based research group Barna.
The generation most likely to shun digital services were millennials, with over half of those surveyed admitting they had stopped attending virtual church services altogether when the lockdown hit. In comparison, 35% of Gen X Christians and 26% of Baby Boomer Christians say they stepped back from church when it shifted online.
The report stated: "Though younger generations might be more accustomed to digital routines and innovations, their tenuous relationship with institutions seems to persist during this era of digital church.
"These trends highlight the importance of churches continuing to reach out to and disciple the next generation, especially those who are seemingly falling away during the pandemic."
In addition, 14 per cent of practising Christians say they switched churches during the pandemic, while 18% of practicing Christians reported viewing worship services from multiple churches throughout the month.
Barna also noted the profound impact on Christians who have chosen to forsake their regular churchgoing habits, adding: "Respondents who have stopped attending church during COVID-19 are less likely than their peers who are still attending the same church during the pandemic to agree with the statement 'I am not anxious about my life, as I have an inner peace from God' (76% vs. 87%).
"Practicing Christians who have stopped attending church in recent weeks are more likely than all other practicing Christians to say they feel bored 'all of the time' (17% vs. 6%) or that they have felt 'insecure' for at least some of each day (11% vs. 7%)."
Barna's president David Kinnaman insisted that the church is "not going back to normal" and must adapt to a new set of challenges even after the coronavirus subsides. Kinnaman said that the pandemic has simply accentuated the impact of the ongoing cultural chaos in which we live, and believes that the church must continue to adapt in order to effectively connect with people in our complex modern world.
"I think we're going to see is a really interesting sort of 'new normal,' a lot of deep disruptions that are going to take place over many months and maybe even many years," he said.