Family Ministry Blog

Church Attendance and COVID-19

by Ben Holden on May 04, 2021

It's been a rough year. I am glad though that no one was able to tell me that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would last as long as they have. If we had known, we might have lost our minds (even though it feels like we may already have). To an extent I'm being humorful but at the same time there is a heavy dose of seriousness.

As a pastor, one of the hardest things to watch has been the effect that this pandemic has had on the church as a whole. What was once a packed building on Sunday mornings has turned into a much smaller crowd along with a sense of uneasiness for many in terms of maintaining health. Now don't get me wrong, a full church building does not mean a successful or even vibrant church. However, you can't help but notice that many people are either staying away, are unengaging, have moved on, or are choosing to remain distant.

I came across an article through a resource dedicated to building children's ministry that shared some Barna research on this topic. Here is an excerpt of the findings they reported:

Up to this point, a big percentage of churches are seeing their attendance go down by as much as 50%.

An example.  I was recently conversing with a church that had over 3,000  people attending before Covid-19.  Now they have around 1,000 people  attending.

Here are some more interesting findings from the Barna group.

    • 1/3 of practicing Christians are still only attending their pre-covid church. 

    • 53% say they have streamed their regular church online within the past four weeks.

    • 34% admit to streaming a different church service online other than their own, essentially “church hopping” digitally.

    • 32% says they have done neither of these things.  They have stopped attending church altogether.

    • A small percentage (14%) of believers have made a church switch during the pandemic.

    • 18% of practicing Christians are viewing worship services online from multiple churches.

What  about the Millennials?  These are the parents of the Gen Z and Gen  Alpha kids in your ministry.  So this would be the attendance pattern of the Millennial's children as well.

    • 50% say they have not attended church in the last 4 weeks.

    • 30% have stayed at the same church.

    • 8% have switched churches.

The article goes on to give the following quote: "The local church is plan A.  There is no plan B.  When people drop out of church, they often never return."

This is heartbreaking! We are seeing practically play out what I believe to be people's held convictions on the importance of the church. Today's culture has made it into a "if I can fit it into my schedule" rather than a high priority conviction.

Here is something else that we may not have considered: our kids are watching. The way we are interacting (or not) with our church is influencing how our kids are viewing the church. If it isn't a priority to us, it won't be to our kids. If we treat it as an option, so will they.

Let me encourage you in a few areas:

  1. If you are not attending church because of legitimate health reasons, we get it, we understand, and we support you. Please, do what you need to do in order to stay healthy. This is why we offer online services, so that you will not be shut out from the opportunity to worship with your church family, hear the preaching of the Word, and to provide a level of connectedness. I hope you will be actively engaged at home through online services, through giving, and actively seek out ways to stay connected to those that are a part of the body. We miss you and can't wait until you are able to return to corporate worship in person!

  2. If you have fallen out of the rhythm and habit of being engaged with the church, its time to come home. Jesus Christ established the church (body of believers) for the purposes of gathering, growing, giving, and going. It is where you find accountability, encouragement, challenge, care, and are regularly reminded of the hope that we have been given in Jesus Christ. It is the working force of the mission of the gospel that we have been called to.  Our lives have been disrupted through this pandemic, but don't let it have a lasting negative effect. You need the church and the church needs you.

  3. If you are staying away from the church because masks are being required, again, it is time to come home. I will say it bluntly: we can not let something like wearing masks and our views on it (one way or the other) divide us and keep us apart. We can not let something as trivial as masks keep us from maximum effectiveness for the sake of the gospel. We can not let masks cause us to turn on each other. We can not let masks keep us from corporately worshipping our Savior. Our preferences can't get the better of us. What is more important, taking a stance on masks or storming the gates of hell as a body of believers with the message and saving grace of the gospel?

  4. If you are staying away from the church out of fear, place your trust in Jesus. I completely understand wanting to maintain health and avoid things that are dangerous. At the same time we want to make sure that we don't let fears cause us to become recluse and hinder us from living life. We don't want to let the fear of something keep us from what God calls us to. We want you to be safe and and we want you to be healthy. We also want to be with you, worship with you, help you to grow in your relationship with Christ, and to be on mission with you. These two things don't have to be mutually exclusive. Both can be accomplished at the same time. Know that God is sovereign and in control of all things. Don't let what should be cautioned respectfully turn into something that is debilitatingly feared.

Hebrews 10:25 cautions that we should not get in the habit of no longer meeting together...we should intentionally seek to gather. It is important. It is life giving. Our kids are watching how we are engaging with the church. My hope and prayer is that you will make it a priority as it is healthy for you and needed discipleship for our children.

I hope to see you on a Sunday soon!

Tags: worship, church attendance, covid-19

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