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An economist’s thoughts on Covid-19 and religiosity

An economist’s thoughts on Covid-19 and religiosity

Brian Hollar, Associate Professor of Economics at Marymount University, writes in Religion & Diplomacy:

…. the pandemic is causing the social element of church participation to decrease significantly. If a service is being live-streamed, congregants are likely not going to see anyone but their clergy on a screen on Sunday mornings. If a church has no streaming service or if many congregants are not online (due to factors such as age or income), then social distancing may rapidly translate into rapid reduction in the social benefit of being involved in church. If this pandemic lasts more than a few weeks, some very critical social capital might be lost which may impact churches long-term after they attempt to re-gather once the social restrictions from the pandemic lessen.

Utilizing services like Zoom or Skype to conduct interactive Sunday school or Bible studies may help to mitigate these effects, but having less opportunity for spontaneous, in-person social interaction may weaken social bonds within churches the longer the pandemic lasts. The more successful churches are at offering ways for people to continue to interact in real-time with one another during the pandemic, the less social capital they should expect to lose. The less successful churches are at providing a genuine sense of community, connectedness, and support during this crisis, the more they will find themselves competing with other streaming media for the attention of believers.

Megachurches with large buildings, which require large budgets funded by an assumption of high attendance, may be particularly impacted. So too might smaller churches in rural regions or poorer urban areas, with congregations whose livelihood may be more impacted by the economic slowdown. Rural churches would also be less likely to have congregants who have active internet use with broadband connections at home.

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