COVID-19 has already influenced the future trajectories of businesses and organizations—and the Black Church is no exception. Recent data show that over nine in 10 Black Church churchgoers (92%)—that is, attendees of primary Black Protestant denominations who have been to church at least once within the past six months—agree that their church responded well to the pandemic.
This article takes an in-depth look at what factors into positive or negative opinions on the Black Church’s response to COVID-19, how churchgoers of these denominations are experiencing the crisis and the hope they have for the future of their churches. This data is just the beginning of research we will continue to uncover in upcoming months as we partner with Rev. Dr. Brianna K. Parker (of Black Millennial Cafe), Urban Ministries, Inc., Movement Day, American Bible Society and Compassion to learn more about the State of the Black Church.
Overall, Black Churchgoers Agree That Their Churches Have Responded Well to the Pandemic
Church leadership across the board has had to remain nimble in this time of uncertainty, responding to shifting regulations and perceptions while also considering the physical, economic and emotional impact the crisis has had on their attendees. For the most part, churches in Black Protestant denominations receive positive remarks for their approaches, with over nine in 10 Black Church congregants (92%) agreeing that their church responded well to the pandemic (64% strongly agree, 28% somewhat agree). Only 8 percent of Black Church attendees voiced that their church’s response has been lacking (6% somewhat disagree, 2% strongly disagree).
Research also shows a correlation between church commitment and the inclination to offer positive feedback on a church’s response to COVID-19—that is, the more often you attend church, the more likely you are to be satisfied with your church’s response.
Among the half of respondents in this study (51%) with a weekly commitment to attending a Black church, 71 percent strongly agree that their church responded well. Among the three in 10 of respondents (31%) who have a monthly commitment to a Black Church, about two in five (59%) strongly agree that their church responded well. Among remaining 18 percent of respondents who have attended a service at a Black church at least once within the past 6 months, half (52%) strongly agree that their church responded well to the crisis.
Accordingly, we see a similar trend among faith segments, with the majority of practicing Christians who attend a Black church (73%) strongly agreeing that their church responded well to COVID-19, as opposed to 49 percent of non-practicing Christians.
One-Third of Black Churchgoers (35%) Is Concerned for Their Church’s Long-Term Health
When social distancing guidelines and safe-at-home orders were first implemented months back, Barna began checking in on pastors and their congregants with a weekly survey. Data show that while COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on churches, especially financially, most pastors are certain their church will survive and hopeful for the future of the Church overall. Does this pattern hold when we focus on the Black Church?
Drilling down, we find that about one in three Black churchgoers (35%) strongly agrees that they are concerned about COVID-19’s long-term effect on their church’s health. Another one-third (37%) somewhat agrees with this statement, while 28 percent disagree.
The fallout of the pandemic, while far-reaching, has varied in terms of personal impact, and racial and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected. The crisis may be having a compounded emotional impact among those who have less education and fewer resources, indicated here in how they perceive the health of their communities of faith. When asked about concerns over the impact to their church, those of lower socioeconomic status and / or those who have not attended college are more likely than those who of a higher socioeconomic status and / or those who have achieved a college degree to strongly agree that they are concerned about COVID-19’s lasting impact on their churches.
Small Congregations in the Black Church Feel More Vulnerable to Long-Term Impacts
Despite present concerns, more than half of Black Church attendees (56%) feel confident as they look ahead and strongly agree that their church will be stable and thriving 3–5 years from now. Exactly one-third (33%) agrees somewhat while another 12 percent disagree with this statement (2% strongly disagree, 10% somewhat disagree). Optimism among more committed congregants is also high on this point, as practicing Christians who attend a Black church are more likely than their non-practicing peers to voice their confidence in their church’s future stability and opportunity to thrive (61% vs. 46%).
Church size is a factor in attendees’ hopes for the future. Data show that congregants of small Black churches (100 adults or less) are significantly less confident in their church’s ability to thrive over the next 3–5 years as opposed to congregants in larger Black churches (49% small churches vs. 58% mid-size churches, 66% large churches). The chart below shows how, despite the general optimism surrounding the future of the Black Church post-COVID, smaller congregations find themselves in a more vulnerable position that mid-sized or large churches.
Given asymmetries in how COVID-19 has touched the Black community, as well as the present push toward racial justice following the death of George Floyd, the Black Church is centrally positioned to address the challenges of this year. As we work with our research partners to report on the state of the Black Church at large, we’ll continue to examine signs of susceptibility and confidence among these congregations.
For those who are interested in engaging their church in conversations of faith and race, Barna and our technology partner Gloo have created a free Faith & Race Check-In for pastors and congregations. These tools are available in Barna Access, alongside a curated channel dedicated to covering Race and the Church.
About the Research
This survey was based off 1,083 GenPop adults and 822 Black Church churchgoers (BCC) and was conducted between April 22 and May 6, 2020 via an online survey. Sample error for the GenPop responses is plus or minus 2.8 at the 95% confidence level, and 3.3 for the BCC sample at the 95% confidence level.
GenPop: U.S. adults 18+ who consider themselves to be Black, either Black alone or with some other ethnic makeup.
Black church churchgoers are self-identifed Christians, including Catholics, who have attended a Black church of a Protestant denomination at least once in the past 6 months that is led by a Black pastor and is attended by a majority of Black people.
Practicing Christians are self-identified Christians who have attended a worship service within the past month and agree strongly that their faith is very important in their life.
Churched adults have been to church in the last six months.
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020