Churches are closing at an alarming rate in the United States, according to researchers, as congregations shrink across the country and a younger generation of Americans abandon Christianity entirely – even as faith continues to dominate American politics.

As the United States adjusts to an increasingly non-religious population, thousands of churches close each year, a trend that experts believe has accelerated since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The situation necessitates some difficult decisions for pastors, who must determine when a dwindling congregation is no longer sustainable. However, it has created a thriving market for those looking to purchase churches, with former houses of worship finding new life.


According to Lifeway Research, approximately 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, with approximately 3,000 new churches opening. It was the first time the number of churches in the United States had not increased since the evangelical firm began researching the subject. With the pandemic hastening a broader trend of Americans abandoning Christianity, researchers believe the closures will only have accelerated.

Protestant pastors reported that typical church attendance is only 85% of pre-pandemic levels, according to McConnell, while research by the Survey Center on American Life and the University of Chicago found that in spring 2022, 67% of Americans reported attending church at least once a year, compared to 75% before the pandemic.

However, while Covid-19 may have accelerated the decline, there is a broader, long-running trend of people abandoning religion. In 2017, Lifeway surveyed young adults aged 18 to 22 who had attended church on a regular basis for at least a year during high school. The firm discovered that seven out of ten people had stopped attending church on a regular basis.

A study by Pew Research found that the number of Americans who identified as Christian was 64% in 2020, with 30% of the US population being classed as “religiously unaffiliated”. Approximately 6% of Americans identified with Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism.

“Since the 1990s, large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to join the growing ranks of US adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic, or ‘nothing in particular,'” Pew wrote.

“This rapidly accelerating trend is reshaping the religious landscape in the United States.”

According to Pew, 92% of Americans said they were Christian in 1972, but by 2070, that number will be below 50%, and the number of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans – or “nones” – will likely outnumber those who follow Christianity.

According to Stephen Bullivant, author of Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America and professor of theology and sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, there has been a generational shift in the Christian world.

While their grandparents may have been regular churchgoers, their children will say they believe in God but do not attend church on a regular basis. By the time the millennials arrived, they had little experience with church or religion.

The sexual abuse scandal, in particular, may have driven away people who had only a tenuous connection to the faith in the Catholic church.

“Then there’s the pandemic,” Bullivant added.

“A lot of people who were weakly attached, to suddenly have months of not going, they’re then thinking: ‘Well we don’t really need to go,’ or ‘We’ve found something else to do,’ or thinking: ‘It was hard enough dragging the kids along then, we really ought to start going again … next week.’”

According to Bullivant, most other countries saw a shift away from religion before the US, but the US had unique circumstances that slowed things down.

“Canada, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, the nones rise much earlier, the baby boom generation, this kind of big, growing separation of kind of traditional Christian moral morality,” Bullivant explained.

“What happens in America, I believe, dampens the rise of the nones. Because, unlike in Britain, there is a very explicit ‘Christian America’ versus godless communism framing in America, and being non-religious is to be un-American.

“I believe that dampens it until you get to the millennial generation, for whom the cold war is a distant memory from their childhood.”

Congregations decrease as people leave. When this reaches a tipping point, churches close. As a result, there is a flood of churches for sale, as well as a variety of opportunities for the once holy structures.

According to Brian Dolehide, managing director of AD Advisors, a real estate firm that specialises in church sales, sales have increased over the last ten years. Churches are frequently converted into housing or care homes, and some are purchased by other churches looking to expand.

However, selling a church is not the same as selling a house or a business. Frequently, the sellers prefer a buyer who intends to use the church for a good cause: Dolehide recently sold a church in El Paso that is now used as housing for recent immigrants, as well as a convent in Pittsburgh that will be used as affordable housing.

The closures are not distributed evenly across the country.

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