9 Reasons Church Attendance Won’t Soon Return to Pre-COVID Numbers

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:  

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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. 
  8. 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. 
  9. 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? 

2 Comments

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    One factor that may contribute to lower church attendance is church closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of small churches whose congregations are largely made up of older people have suspended their services and, while their members talk about regathering, are more likely to shut down altogether. The older one gets the more difficult it is to join a new church. The churchless older people will drift into the ranks of the non-churchgoers. This is an unfortunate development since the older one gets, the less friends one has and the more difficult it is to make new friends. Their church may have been for these folks an important part of their social support network. Some churches might actually boost their attendance if they reached out to this particular segment of the population in their community and engaged them. They would also be providing an invaluable ministry to older people who would otherwise be joining the growing population of unchurched Americans.

  • Alexis Kjellstrom says:

    There is another reason church attendance has dropped and may stay low. Too many churches disregard the concern of many of their members over the need to wear masks. They allow the decision to wear or not wear a mask, at every service, to the members rather than the pastor making the decision. They could easily have mandatory masks at early service(s) when the church has been recently cleaned and the air was fresh and optional masks at the later service(s) for congregants who are less concerned about the virus. They and their staff could also be more careful in their use of words and personal opinions about the virus. These pastors fail to be good Shepards to all their congregation, they left the one(s) behind and only cared for their 99. They are more concerned about popularity, income, numbers and avoiding conflict than the emotional and physical needs of everyone. A great many of those left behind are senior citizens who have supported the church financially and as volunteers for many years. These folks often live alone with Sunday being a vital day to their emotional and spiritual health. I have said this for months and shared my concern to no avail. 

    This behavior by pastors, staff and non-mask wearing congregants is unbiblical. Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” My greatest sadness this year has been that this lesson has been ignored by so many, even in it’s reflection to Mark 12:31 as directed to us by Jesus : “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

    When I hear people say they stopped going to church because no one, or the majority of attendees were not wearing a mask it greatly concerns me. When I hear pastors and staff make negative comments about those concerned about the virus who are taking precautions, it concerns me. When I see churches returning to previous group activities without precautions it concerns me. We are supposed to be the light, an example yet we are prideful in our church behavior. This concerns me.

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