DP15566 U.S. Churches' Response to Covid-19: Results from Facebook

Author(s): Eva Raiber, Paul Seabright
Publication Date: December 2020
Keyword(s): Church, Covid-19 pandemic, Facebook, social media
JEL(s): H75, I18, Z12
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15566

This study investigates U.S. churches' response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic by looking at their public Facebook posts. For religious organizations, in-person gatherings are at the heart of their activities. Yet religious in-person gatherings have been identified as some of the early hot spots of the pandemic, but there has also been controversy over the legitimacy of public restrictions on such gatherings. Our sample contains information on church characteristics and Facebook posts for nearly 4000 churches that posted at least once in 2020. The share of churches that offer an online church activity on a given Sunday more than doubled within two weeks at the beginning of the pandemic (the first half of March 2020) and stayed well above baseline levels. Online church activities are positively correlated with the local pandemic situation at the beginning, but uncorrelated with most state interventions. After the peak of the first wave (mid April), we observe a slight decrease in online activities. We investigate heterogeneity in the church responses and find that church size and worship style explain differences consistent with churches facing different demand and cost structures. Local political voting behavior, on the other hand, explains little of the variation. Descriptive analysis suggests that overall online activities, and the patterns of heterogeneity, remain unchanged through end-November 2020.