The pandemic may cause even more younger people to walk away from the Church, says Barna President David Kinnaman.
He voiced his fears in a Barna-hosted discussion on Vimeo about the possible impact of Covid-19 on Christians aged 18 to 29 - an age cohort that churches have traditionally struggled to hold onto in recent times.
When the question came up of whether the pandemic will only exacerbate this challenge, Kinnaman said: "I think it will."
Explaining why he thinks that, he pointed to the general trend seen in the research data, in which the number of young 'prodigals' - those who have lost their faith completely - has doubled from 11% a decade ago to 22% today.
Kinnaman said it was hard to predict exactly how things would look in the next 10 years, but he thinks the pandemic will "actually accelerate that problem."
"I actually think we're going to see an increasing number of people who've lost connectedness with their faith community, with their usual rhythms and practices," said Kinnaman.
"We're going to actually see an increasing number in the years to come and the long-term impact is even more fallout from that."
Kinnaman was in conversation with Barna's director of insights, Mark Matlock, who had more worrying figures to share.
According to Matlock, out of adults aged 18 to 29 who were raised Christian, only one in 10 can be regarded as "resilient" disciples. Over a fifth (22%) are no longer Christian and nearly a third (30%) are considered spiritual "nomads" because although they believe in God, they don't attend church.
Commenting on the figures, Matlock said: "[What's] important to realize about that 22% is that they just aren't coming to church anymore. They've said I no longer identify as a Christian, which is pretty serious."
One group within the 18 to 29 age range where Matlock sees some hope is the "habitual" churchgoers - the 38% who do actually go to church but don't feel close to God.
Matlock thinks that because they actually have a "meaningful" relationship with a church already, they could be come resilient disciples if churches seize the opportunity to disciple them.
This does not only mean getting them into small groups but making "personal connections" by calling them and asking them how they are doing, how their faith is, and how the church can support them, Matlock said.
"The pandemic has accelerated the urgency, I believe, in discipling those habitual churchgoers," said Matlock.
"They are coming to our churches with pretty good frequency but they aren't really grounded in their faith, practice or belief. And that's an opportunity that we have."