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Construction of Houses of Worship Hits a Record Low in June

Spending on the construction of church buildings hit a record low in June as the pandemic and changing demographics continued to change how and where people worship.

The annualized religious facility building rate of $3 billion in June, according to U.S. Census data, represented a 66% decline from a $8.8 billion record high in August 2003, Axios reported.

The Census data includes houses of worship including churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. It excludes other types of buildings owned by religious groups such as schools and hospitals. 

Construction of amusement and recreation facilities grew 42% over the same period.

But the data doesn’t tell the whole story, Rev. David Schoen, a minister for the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund, told Axios. 

Schoen pointed out that many churches meet in schools or retail spaces, and that those that are ready for their own building often buy existing churches from congregations where membership has declined. 

And although many worshipers tuned in to online church the pandemic, most plan to return to  worshiping in a physical location when they can.  

Barna’s State of the Church 2020 project, published in March of that year, found that just 2 percent of practicing Christians had attended church via a video or livestream sermon. But by June, with Covid lockdowns in full effect, more than half of practicing Christians (53%) said they had streamed their regular church service online within the past four weeks, while another 34 percent said they had streamed services from another church.

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And a Pew Research study conducted in July 2020 found that 18% of all adults started watching religious services online for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, and that nine out of 10 were either “very” satisfied (54%) or “somewhat” satisfied (37%) with the experience.

But Pew also found that most U.S. adults said that after the Covid-19 pandemic is over, they intend to go back to attending religious services in person as often as they did before.

However, the percentage of Americans who are members of a house of worship continues to decline, dropping  below the 50% mark last year for the first time in eight decades—the amount of time Gallup has measured the metric.

The decline is strongly correlated with age, Gallup found, with 66% of adults born before 1946 belonging to a church, compared with 58% of baby boomers, 50% of those in Generation X, and 36% of millennials.

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.