Did faith fall off a cliff during COVID? by Bob Smietana for Christian Today
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many Americans lost the habit of churchgoing after almost every church in the country closed down their in-person services and shifted online.
But did some of them give up on God?
Sociologists like Michael Hout want to know.
Hout, a professor of sociology at New York University, has long tracked the decline of organized religion in America. So he was interested to see that several indicators of what he called “intense religion” declined in the 2021 General Social Survey.
In that survey, fewer Americans than in 2016 said they take the Bible literally, pray frequently or have a strong religious affiliation. Even as church attendance had been consistently dropping off over the past decades, those more personal measures of faith had previously held steady or showed only slight decline.
“Then they fell off a cliff,” said Hout in a video interview.
In a new, yet-to-be-published study, Hout and colleagues Landon Schnabel from Cornell University and Sean Bock from Harvard, raise questions about the rapid decline in those measures during the pandemic, which they argue may be more due to changes in how the GSS was administered rather than a sign of religious decline.
Founded in 1972 at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, the GSS, conducted every two years, has long been considered a gold standard for national surveys, in part because it has been administered in person rather than online or over the phone.
When the pandemic made in-person surveys unworkable, the GSS switched to a hybrid approach, with most participants answering questions online, while others took the survey over the phone. Researchers also asked some of the participants in the 2016 and 2018 surveys to take part in the 2020 survey, which was published in 2021.