Five Early Findings from Churches That Are Regathering

The regathering of churches for in-person services is garnering a lot of attention in both the religious and secular media. I totally get that. There are very few organizations other than churches that meet as a large group every week. The implications are significant. 

We are following closely as more churches open for in-person gatherings. While we are not yet seeing even half of the churches open, more are added each week. It thus behooves us to get these early reports. Those that are open will be making adjustments. Those that are not yet opened can plan accordingly.

For now, we see several early trends. The list is not exhaustive, but these five findings are the most common we are observing. 

  1. Most churches are cooperative with local and state officials and desire to comply with their guidelines. While the media will highlight adversarial relationships between churches and governments, such tension is simply not the norm. To the contrary, the vast majority of church leaders desire to work with governmental entities. The real story is not a battle between church and state, but a cooperative spirit between the two.
  1. Early attendance is significantly lower than the pre-quarantine era. At this point, one-half of the churches we have surveyed have an attendance of 60 percent or less than the pre-quarantine numbers. We rarely hear of a church that has an attendance of 80 percent or higher. For now, those churches are the outliers. 
  1. Returning senior adults present a unique challenge for many church leaders. We have numerous reports that senior adults are among the most eager to return to in-person services. Frankly, this trend is going contrary to our initial expectations. We thought most senior adults would be the last returning group because of potential health concerns. But as many of these older adults return, leaders are concerned how to minister to them spiritually and protect them physically. 
  1. The negative church members and naysayers are back. When the pandemic began, many churches had to hit the pause button on a number of fronts and issues. One of the unintended positive consequences was the pause taken by the negative church members. It has been a blissful silence for churches. Now that churches are planning to regather, the pause is lifted and the acrimonious few are back. 
  1. Most churches are utilizing some type of extra service at least for the short-term. The regathering churches are adding space to allow for social distancing. Some are adding services. Others are adding overflow rooms. Some are doing both or providing other creative solutions. The need for extra space has been exacerbated by children coming to the worship services who were previously segregated in their own age-graded area. 

For certain, the way churches are returning is changing regularly. These five findings will undoubtedly change as church leaders make necessary adjustments. Stay posted to as we continue to provide the latest updates on the regathered church.

Posted on June 7, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • We launched our church virtually on Easter Sunday. For six weeks, our online viewership was between 80 and 100 as we utilized Facebook and YouTube. We had our first in-person gathering last Sunday and our attendance has been 23 and 15 the last two Sundays respectively. However, last week’s service had over 700 viewers on Facebook and this week’s service is already over 300 views. We are meeting in person but continue to post our services through Facebook Live. We are still trying to bridge the gap between people watching us online and attending in-person but God has been SO good to us!

  • 1. Like the churches described in your first point, we have been operating in compliance with CDC recommendations.
    2. Our attendance has been significantly lower than pre-Covid 19 upon our regathering which began on May 17th. Over the last few weeks, however, attendance has slowly increased.
    3. While several of our Senior Adults have returned for the reason sited in this point, there are also many who have intentionally refrained from attending until they feel it is safer to return. Who know when that will actually be?
    4. Unlike this point, we have not heard the negative comments. Thank the Lord.
    5. Because of the size of our facility as compared to our current membership, space and the need for adding services or extra rooms for attendance has not been an issue. Like so many congregations, this church once had a booming attendance and the facility to match it. Over the years, however, that attendance and waned; but obviously, the size of the facility has not.

  • Yesterday was our 4th Sunday with reopened worship services and our first for small groups the preceding hour. We also reopened our two children’s church sections. Attendance started out at about 50% of pre-pandemic but was up to about 75% yesterday. Some are anxious to reopen everything while others are still uncomfortable to return (although I see these same “concerned” at the grocery, hardware, gas store, etc.). Our service yesterday seemed more like our usual church service.

  • Michael Fillis says on

    I have enjoyed the webinars and posts. My church reopened yesterday. We had 55 attend with most being senior/retired adults since that is the primary demographic in which our church serves. Senior adults are anxious to return to church. I have seen and heard that personally.

    Delaware currently allows for churches and restaurants to host 30% of their rated occupancy as long as social distancing is observed. As officials relax this allowed percentage, we have observed that social distancing, not the percentage, will become the determining factor in allowable attendance. As long as the “6 foot” rule remains in effect, our sanctuary will not be able to accomodate much more than 30% of its rated occupancy. The only solution we will have for accomodating larger crowds will be to offer multiple services. In my opinion, that defeats the whole idea of the occupancy rule. Every room can only hold so many people if current social distancing guidelines remain in effect, and that number of people appears to be about 30-40%. More space will be needed to accomodate what I anticipate will be growing crowds through the summer.

  • Your insights line up with our reality. We started back with live gatherings on Monther’s day with about 60% of what would be normal. But Sunday we jumped to about 70%. While here in Florida churches have been considered essential services, we felt it was important as a witness to our community, so we have followed the general guidelines for most businesses. We are also experiencing an increase in visitors on a regular basis. Thank you for the blog…

  • We re-opened yesterday and we had 60 in attendance. Normally we run between 80-90. Most of that group was our over 65 crowd. We had a seating chart made up so that people knew where they would be sitting. We practiced “social distancing” and we required people to wear masks. I did not agree with this one but I went along for the sake of protecting those older attender in our congregation. Because we wore masks, we shortened up the service because we knew that people would start getting hot. We only did half the songs, prayer and then I shared my sermon. We still ended up having worship for exactly an hour and we usually go for about an hour and a half. It was good to be back together.

  • Yesterday was our 3rd. in person service since March 15 and we are at about 70% in attendance. However we had to add 2nd service, our 1st service is in Spanish and the 2nd is in English however this will be short term until we are allowed to return to 100%.

  • I would love to hear from churches about how many families with children are in attendance at the on site services.

  • I believe seniors are returning because many of them do not have access to the technology to be a part of an online worship service. Our church is planning to reopen to in person worship June 21. We are taking many precautions but I just have no idea how many older (and I am one of them) people will be in the service. We are continuing our online service.

  • Our church has certainly tried to comply with “social distancing” policies, but I must confess that my patience is wearing thin. If people can gather to protest, then they should be able to gather for worship. Mind you, I have no quarrel with peaceful protest, but that only reinforces my point. The same Constitution that guarantees the right to protest also guarantees freedom of worship. The Babylon Bee is satire, but this article pretty much reflects my frustration:

  • Andrew says on

    Great observation! As a pastor who had the privilege of being voted in as the new senior pastor during the pandemic, I found most of your findings to line up with our own experiences. Although we have a large percentage of senior members, in 3 weeks we have doubled the total number of members present and have surpassed 90% of pre-Covid attendance. It has been unexpected but exciting!

  • Richard Heyduck says on

    Today was our first Sunday back together since the middle of March. Where before the shutdown we had services at 9 & 11, we just had a single service at 9am. We chose the earlier hour because we thought meeting outdoors was a healthier option & it was cooler at that time.

    The people who came, from all I’ve heard, loved it. There are others who have been relentlessly negative for a couple of weeks now that we’re not back together inside “like all the other churches in town.” A fair number (probably over half) of our people aren’t willing to wear a mask, so that’s one reason I’m in less of a hurry to go inside. We continue to shoot our online service during the week for premiering on YouTube & Facebook on Sunday mornings.

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