(RNS) — In the height of the pandemic, many Americans who attended in-person worship services turned to their computers and their couches instead for virtual viewing.
Now, the Pew Research Center finds a third of Americans regularly attend in-person worship services while a bit more than a quarter regularly watch religious services on TV or online.
Its new survey paints a detailed picture of which, why and how often Americans continue worshipping online or on TV:
Half of those who are regular online watchers of religious services usually do so alone.
More than half (61%) of those who virtually attend do not participate in worship activities as they did in person, such as singing, kneeling or praying out loud. But Black (49%) and Hispanic (47%) online worshippers are more likely to continue these practices virtually.
And while the majority (60%) of virtual viewers watch the worship service of one congregation, 32% watch those of two or three houses of worship and 6% watch four or more different congregations. One-quarter of regular online worshippers say they exclusively watch services of the congregation they usually attend.
“Regular” attenders were defined as those who said they watched or attended services in the month before the survey or had attended or watched at least monthly.
The online survey of more than 11,000 Americans reports significant levels of satisfaction among those who are worshipping online.
“Broadly speaking, the survey finds that most Americans who watch religious services on screens are happy with them,” states the report on the survey, which was released on Friday (June 2). “Two-thirds of U.S. adults who regularly stream religious services online or watch them on TV say they are either ‘extremely satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the services they see.”
A similar share of U.S. adults (68%) say they are extremely or very satisfied with the sermons and a bit more than half say they’re also quite satisfied with the music they hear at worship services they view online or on TV.
Still, a larger share of U.S. adults express significant satisfaction with aspects of in-person worship, with 74% of those who attend in person saying they are very or extremely satisfied with the sermons and 69% saying the same about the music.
Researchers delved into the nuances of religion and technology to report on the state of virtual and in-person worship in a survey taken in November, after the pandemic had waned but before the end of the national health emergency.
The top major reason adults say they watch religious services online is because they’re convenient. While 43% of regular virtual viewers cite convenience, just a quarter cite safety, specifically a concern about contracting or spreading COVID-19 or other diseases.
But COVID remains a factor for some Americans who say they attend in-person services less often than they did before the pandemic. While 21% of less frequent attenders say they found other ways to pursue spiritual interests, an almost equal percentage (20%) said “I am still worried about COVID-19.”