By Park Ji-won
Churches have needed to close their doors to worshippers due to the tightened social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, banning people from church-related activities, such as face-to-face worship services and other gatherings.
A few big or specific churches that were already able to provide online sermons before the pandemic, ended up receiving more offerings from congregations through online payments, as well as accommodating new churchgoers. Meanwhile, many smaller churches have found it difficult to adjust to the new reality created by the virus and have seen both members and donations decline. Some denominations have even revised their rules to allow pastors to take on side jobs in order to make some extra money to survive.
Recent data gathered by Protestant churches has corroborated this reality felt by Korea's clergy, revealing that the pandemic has accelerated a decline in the number of churchgoers over the last year, although the number of churches and the number of pastors have both surprisingly increased.
According to the report by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Korea, the total number of church congregation members as of 2020 stood at 2.39 million, down 114,066, or 4.55 percent, year-on-year. Over the last 10 years, the number of regular church-going members has continued to decrease every year. Despite this overall, long-term decline, the number averaged 2.8 million from 2011 to 2014 every year, but fell to 2.78 in 2015. Over the last five years, the denomination has lost approximately 400,000 regular members in total.
However, the report also showed that the number of churches increased by 0.57 percent, or 53 churches, and that the number of pastors increased by 1.32 percent, or 275, compared to last year.
Between 2019 and 2020, the number of regular members of the Korean Methodist Church dropped to 1.22 million from 1.28 million, year-on-year, according to data from the media and its denomination. However, it also gained three more churches than 2019, as well as 136 more pastors. Meanwhile, the total income of its 11 regions dropped to 958.9 billion won, down 105.1 billion won, year-on-year.
Data from 2020 showed that the number of regular congregation members of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic Of Korea decreased to 215,617 last year, down 7,954 compared to 2019. However, it also had six more churches and 38 more pastors compared to 2019.
The Korea Evangelical Holiness Church had less than 400,000 regular churchgoing members as of 2020, according to media reports.
The rate of growth of the number of regular congregation members of the Catholic Church also decreased last year, according to its year-end statistics.
The number of Catholic churchgoing members stood at 5.92 million, up only 0.15 percent (8,631), as of last year. The rate of the growth of the number of members was previously 0.9 percent in 2018 and 0.8 percent in 2019.