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Impact of COVID-19 on Building Use & Community Programs in Sacred Places
Note: to view larger versions of the charts included below, click on the images directly.

The following report was provided by our colleagues at Partners for Sacred Places. Data was gathered between June 26 and July 10, 2020 from a broad variety of faith traditions (19) and locations (37 states). 131 sacred places participated. While the findings are not intended to be representative of American congregations as a whole, they do offer important insights into the conditions that congregations and communities are facing as a result of the pandemic.
Summary of Key Findings
Disruptions caused by the pandemic have almost completely reshaped what occurs in sacred places across America. In late June and early July of 2020, only 18% of sacred places surveyed were using their buildings for worship, but 61% were in use for community serving programs. Yet, the number of community serving programs has fallen dramatically. Only about one third of programs that existed before the pandemic are currently operating, one third are planned to resume by the end of this year, and there are no plans to resume the other third.

As America faces the COVID-19 pandemic, a prolonged economic recession, and demands for increased equity and racial justice, congregations are confronting significant challenges as they plan to resume in-person activities. While congregations have shown great resourcefulness and community-mindedness in opening programs where possible, greater investment will be needed from the wider community so these services are not lost. Partners will continue to work with congregations as they make their case for the value they provide to their communities and the impact that investment in sacred places makes on our neighborhoods, cities, and nation.
Impact on Community Survey Programs
The pandemic has resulted in a profound loss of community serving programs.
85% of community serving programs stopped during the pandemic. The most commonly cited reasons were guidance from government (73%), the need for social distancing (72%), the need to protect vulnerable volunteers (66%), and guidance from judicatories (49%). Only 4% of respondents reported a lack of participants as a reason to stop programs, and only 2% reported a lack of funding.

Many of these programs have resumed, with additional programs expected to resume by the end of 2020. Of the 549 surveyed community serving programs that were active before social distancing, only 34% are currently active. An additional 28% are expected to open by the end of the calendar year. However, 38% of community serving programs that existed prior to social distancing are not expected to resume by the end of 2020.
Current Building Use and Plans for Reopening
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of congregations pre-recording or live streaming both worship (increase from 20% to 85%) and education or small group activities (increase from 7% to 72%). Most of the live-streaming is planned to end after in-person activities resume, but some will continue, resulting in a long-term increase in congregation’s capabilities.
While only 18% of congregations have returned to in-person worship, 55% plan to return by the end of the year. The vast majority (95%) of congregations have or are developing a plan to reopen. About half have a plan and half are in development. 75% of congregations plan to reopen in the same space, with physical modifications. 8% will use the same space with other modifications, 8% will use an alternate/outdoor space, and 11% are undecided.

Many of the disruptions caused by COVID-19 will not be resolved by the end of 2020. 28% of congregations have no plans to return to in-person worship by the end of the year. 30% of respondents expect the current health crisis to result in decreased revenue from lost space-use income, resulting in an overall deficit at the end of the year. 34% expect decreased revenue, but not a deficit.
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