It’s been a year since the U.S. federal government issued a state of emergency in response to rising COVID-19 cases in the nation. Over the past 12 months, America has witnessed the sobering effects of the virus on every aspect of life. Churches joined the many institutions forced to shift and innovate in a time of social distancing, isolation and great loss.
This article looks back at Barna research showing the year’s impact on levels of anxiety, life milestones and hope for the future among Americans, with a specific focus on practicing Christians. Practicing Christians seem to have fared better than average in a number of dimensions, but church leaders should note those groups who have been especially challenged during the pandemic—and prepare to meet their needs in the new hybrid ministry space of 2021.
Practicing Christians are defined as U.S. adults who identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church at least once a month, on average, in the past year. It’s important to note that, during COVID-19, most church services moved online, and streaming is not always equated with attending.
Satisfaction with Social Life, Well-Being & Work-Life Balance Has Waned During the Pandemic
Barna checked in with U.S. adults on the toll of COVID-19 six months into the pandemic. As of October, about two in five Americans (42%) said they were just as satisfied with their social life then as they were before the pandemic, though a similar 46 percent noted more dissatisfaction in this area. Though practicing Christians were more likely to report higher levels of satisfaction with their social life (21% vs. 12% all U.S. adults), the refrain was the same: COVID-19 had negatively impacted their social life (42% less satisfied).
Among the ways the pandemic affected social lives: The majority of all U.S. adults (57%) and practicing Christians (62%) shared they had altered, skipped or canceled major events and milestones they were looking forward to as a result of the pandemic.
In the absence of social circles and gatherings, pandemic-life has centered around work and home, or the ways in which the two have merged. Half of all employed U.S. adults (50%) reported working from home in some capacity during the pandemic, with 33 percent saying they were doing so exclusively. With the likelihood of remote work options becoming a mainstay of the “new normal,” how have work-life boundaries been affected?
Interestingly, in Barna’s fall 2020 study, whatever satisfaction (or lack thereof) U.S. adults experienced in their work-life hadn’t shifted much because of COVID-19. Roughly four in 10 Americans (46%) and practicing Christians (39%) agreed they were just as satisfied with their work-life balance as they had been pre-pandemic. Even U.S. adults who identified as essential workers tracked along with all U.S. adults; nearly half (47%) said their experience of work-life balance was unchanged. A notable percentage of practicing Christians (35%) said they were more satisfied in their work-life, while just one in five U.S. adults (22%) said the same.
Employment itself was not always so steady; as of late 2020, 14 percent of Americans and 7 percent of practicing Christians who were employed prior to COVID-19 told Barna they had lost their job as a result of the pandemic. Among U.S. adults, those who were more likely to have lost their jobs included women, respondents within lower income households and those of lower socioeconomic status. When analyzing the data among practicing Christians only, a similar trend emerged.
Looking ahead, Americans are divided on the timeline for complete economic recovery. As of October 2020, one in three U.S. adults (32%) believed the economy will recover in one year, while two in five (40%) assumed it will take at least two or more years. Optimism is somewhat higher among practicing Christians; more than one-third (35%) thinks the economy will recover by October 2021.
With these shifts and losses in mind, as well as the continued rise of the pandemic-related U.S. death toll, it comes as no surprise that the majority of survey respondents—65 percent of U.S. adults and 62 percent of practicing Christians—said they were experiencing moderate to high anxiety during the pandemic (as of October 2020). Does this heightened anxiety indicate broader impact on Americans’ mental and emotional well-being?
Similar percentages of all U.S. adults (47%) and practicing Christians (44%) noted they were just as satisfied with their mental and emotional well-being during COVID-19, though roughly one in three U.S. adults (38%) and practicing Christians (31%) were less satisfied. A larger difference was found among positive reports; exactly one-quarter of practicing Christians (25%), versus 15 percent of all U.S. adults, said they were more satisfied with their mental and emotional well-being during the COVID-19 crisis. Though the data can’t speak to the direction of this correlation, practicing Christians, by their own accounts, were more likely to hold steady or see some improvement through the pandemic.
One year out, pastors are working through how to best comfort and lead their congregants, especially women and those of lower socioeconomic status, through the trauma of the past and uncertainties of the future. All this, while continuing to adapt to digital and hybrid ministry—but Barna’s data indicate the latter will remain an important effort. The majority of churched adults (63%) believes churches should continue to leverage digital resources for discipleship, even once the pandemic is over.
Discover more of Barna’s COVID-19 reporting from the past year:
- Purchase our Digital Church suite or read specific articles on hybrid church, digital evangelism and digital prayer.
- Read what research has revealed about the new Sunday morning and five things we’ve learned during COVID-19.
- Watch Caring for Souls in a New Reality (Barna Access subscription required), a Barna webcast produced in partnership with Gloo in May 2020. You can read the webcast recap here.
- Listen to the ChurchPulse Weekly podcast, hosted by Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman, which offers church leaders up-to-date insights to help them respond well and lead effectively through crisis.
About the Research
October 2020 Omnipoll data: The research for this study was conducted online from October 9 to 20, 2020. Barna surveyed 1,520 U.S. adults. The sample error for this study is ±2.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Digital Church data: The research presented for Barna’s 2020 Digital Church study was conducted online from September 1 to 15, 2020. In total, Barna surveyed 1,302 U.S. adults. The sample error for this study is ±2.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
U.S. adults are U.S. residents 18 and older.
Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and attended church at least once a month, on average, in the past year.
Churched adults attended a church service at least once every six months, on average, in the past year.
Unchurched adults did not attend church at least once every six months, on average, in the past year.
© Barna Group, 2021.
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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