". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Gen X Church Attendance Hit Hardest During COVID-19

August 9, 2023

New research is showing COVID-19 and related church closures affected one generation more than others. According to the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University, Generation X stopped returning to church services at a higher rate than other generations between 2020 and 2023. In 2020, 41% of Gen. X attended Christian church services on a weekly basis; this dropped to 28% in 2023. Survey author George Barna, director of Research at the CRC, explained, “No generation endured greater spiritual turbulence than Gen X during … the pandemic. … In all but one instance, those changes showed Gen Xers moving away from biblical perspectives or behaviors.”

Other generations were affected by COVID-19 but not to the same extent that Gen. X was impacted. For example, 35% of millennials attended weekly church services in 2020, dropping to 28% in 2023, while Baby Boomers actually saw an increase in church attendance in that same span of time, rising from 34% to 38%. These statistics are consistent with the CRC’s other findings: on issues like the existence of God, the sacred nature of human life, personal prayer time, and study of the Bible, Gen. X and millennials saw a decrease (with Gen. X seeing a more significant decrease than millennials) while Baby Boomers (generally, though not always) saw an increase.

Barna wrote that, in comparison to millennials, Generation X adults “were much less indifferent to their religious convictions and habits, choosing to generally cut ties with churches and biblical content as they searched for life solutions in response to the COVID-19 crisis. They consciously chose to abandon their Christian moorings in favor of more self-centered life solutions.” Barna further noted that, while most generations follow the lead of their elders, Gen. X seemingly bucked the trend and followed the lead of the succeeding generation, millennials.

Barna posits that COVID-19 church closures were a key factor in adults of any generation struggling with their faith. Arizona Christian University President Len Munsil agreed, telling The Washington Stand:

“Perhaps the most significant revelation in this study was how significantly the pandemic — and even more importantly the response to the pandemic by the government and by churches — shifted people’s opinions and behaviors. In some cases, it revealed that for many self-defined Christians, their faith was not actually as significant a factor in their lives as was presumed.”

Others have suggested COVID-19 was merely a catalyst for a much more deeply-rooted problem. Trent Hunter, pastor for preaching and teaching at Heritage Bible Church in Greer, South Carolina, suggested that decades of growing anti-Christian secularism is a factor. He told TWS:

“Why are Gen Xers and subsequent generations more likely to forgo religious conventions like going to church? It may sound somewhat clinical, but I suspect the changed social and economic cost/benefit analysis explains a lot. Religious conventions are more costly today than they were in the past. Along a merely human plane, it pays less to go to church and it costs more. … The social costs are higher. It used to be that Christians were shamed for living inconsistent with our otherwise agreeable moral convictions. Now, we are shamed for both. Our beliefs are the problem, even the explanation of society’s ills (suicide among LGBTQIA+ people, for example).”

Writing in The Atlantic, “Mere Orthodoxy” Editor in Chief Jake Meador posed a similar theory:

“Contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care, or common life. Rather, it is designed to maximize individual accomplishment as defined by professional and financial success. Such a system leaves precious little time or energy for forms of community that don’t contribute to one’s own professional life or, as one ages, the professional prospects of one’s children.”

Meador also noted the importance of Christian community in the midst of what he called the “workism” dominating American society:

“A healthy church can be a safety net in the harsh American economy by offering its members material assistance in times of need: … it reminds people that their identity is not in their job or how much money they make; they are children of God, loved and protected and infinitely valuable.”

The Cultural Research Center concluded its study noting that church closures denied Christians access to their faith leaders and communities and left them susceptible to the secularism and “workism” Hunter and Meador warned against.

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.