Members of the Norwich Interfaith Association and other Norwich community leaders met with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy at the Sikh Art Gallery Tuesday, concerned about loneliness among adults and the social impact from the decline of churches and church attendance.

In June, Gallup Polls said church attendance was still bellow pre-pandemic attendance. During the four years before pandemic, an average of 34% of Americans attended services at a church, mosque or temple weekly. Since 2020, it’s dropped to only 30%, with a 31% average for a survey conducted in May.

At its peak, close to half of Americans went to places of worship weekly in the 1950s and 1960s, Gallup Poll data states.

Reasons for the decline in attendance

Part of the concern from religious organizations, locally and more broadly, is self-preservation. Sikh Art Gallery Creative Director Swaranjit Singh Khalsa said some people in his community aren’t getting initiated, in part because they want to blend in with the rest of society. There needs to be more positivity toward faith, he said.

“I feel bad, because (faith) helps them be a better human,” he said.

As working on the weekend becomes more common, people are missing worship times for work. There’s a woman who has been wanting to worship at St. Mary’s Church, but isn’t able to make it due to her job at a restaurant at Mohegan Sun, said Father Robert Washabaugh, priest of St. Mary’s and St. Peter and Paul Catholic churches in Norwich.

“Even if we try creative times, people may say they’re too busy to go to church,” he said.

Churches and religious buildings face possibly unsustainable maintenance costs

There’s also the practical side of maintaining a church building. If it’s only the same 30 churchgoers contributing, there’s going to be a point where fewer and fewer people are able to support maintenance, Rev. Eric Heinrich of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church said.

“If we were to close our doors in the future, because the 30 people who worship regularly can’t sustain it, it’s going to be felt by the groups that use it,” he said.  

While St. Mary’s and Greeneville Congregational Church recently got grants for repairing their buildings, it’s generally hard for churches to get state grants because of the religious affiliation, Heinrich said.