More than one church growth expert has suggested that church attendance will remain lower than pre-COVID numbers even after we’re past this situation. Here are some reasons that may well be the case:
- Even prior to COVID, many attenders were already coming only about 50% of the time. Frequency of attendance was already decreasing prior to the spring of last year. My guess is that trend would have continued even without a pandemic.
- Some members who were fringe attenders prior to COVID now have another reason not to come. Let’s be honest—some folks don’t need much incentive not to come. Now, they have others inside and outside the church encouraging them not to gather.
- Responses to COVID have often been internally focused (almost necessarily so), and it’s always difficult to turn a congregation outwardly again. Learning to conduct online services, minister to people from a distance, receive offerings online, etc. has required much internal attention in churches. And, regardless of the cause of an inward focus, it’s much harder to turn the ship around.
- Some folks have simply fallen out of the practice of church attendance. Some, in fact, weren’t even “fringe attenders” prior to COVID; they may have been faithful before but have now developed the habit of non-attendance.
- Some attenders have grown comfortable with online small groups and online worship services. That’s not to say that either delivery system is the best (or the worst, for that matter). It’s simply to recognize that some people have adjusted to online participation as the “new normal” for them.
- Some members who are now frightened by COVID may well be frightened by any viruses that show up in the future. The COVID crisis has so struck fear that any virus still to come might lead to similar personal decisions to avoid crowds, even if churches are fully meeting again.
- Some congregations have recognized the need to reach into their communities – and have begun to consider how to do so – but these ministries don’t always result in increased attendance. Often, these ministries meet legitimate needs in the community, yet community folks don’t necessarily begin attending. That’s particularly the case when the demographics of the church and the community are different.
- Some church leaders are just weary and discouraged from COVID protocols, and their energy for doing outreach in general has waned. Many pastors I know are tired. Many laypersons are exhausted from months of COVID. They all want to be outreach-oriented, but they don’t have the focus or zeal needed right now.
- Maybe God’s testing the egos of those of us who prefer to preach to larger crowds. It’s possible that God’s using this entire situation to sanctify His leaders for whatever He has in the future. Whatever that is will be best, even if it’s different.
What reasons would you add to this list?