I know. The number “2020” has taken a new meaning.
It used to mean perfect vision. Now it means lousy everything.
But 2021 represents a fresh start. In that context, our team at Church Answers is recommending to church leaders that they use 2021 as a new base year. In other words, comparisons with previous years are apples-to-oranges. We are in a post-quarantine era that behooves us to make comparisons from 2021 forward. It will likely not mean a lot to compare church metrics using 2020 and prior years.
Numbers and metrics are not our goals. They are not all-important. But they are good indicators of church health. Just like the thermometer we use to measure our body temperature, metrics can be pointers to measures of church health.
We are thus suggesting 2021 become a fresh start for churches, a blank slate if you will. Church leaders have the opportunity to lead their congregations anew. Here are five of the primary reasons we are suggesting that 2021 become a new base year for your church.
- Because so many things changed in 2020. Your church is not returning to a new normal. It is returning to a new reality. For sure, biblical truth is unchanging, but the way we “do church” will change dramatically if our churches are to thrive, even survive, in the days ahead.
- Because churches have the opportunity to restart with a blank slate. Though the pandemic has been tragic in many ways, it is still an opportunity to look at how we lead our churches forward. In a September 26, 2020 article in the Wall Street Journal, the authors noted that new business starts are at amazing levels. Look at this quote: “Americans are starting new businesses at the fastest rate in more than a decade, according to government data, seizing on pent-up demand and new opportunities after the pandemic shut down and reshaped the economy (see “Is It Insane to Start a Business During Coronavirus? Millions of Americans Don’t Think So.” by Gwynn Guilford and Charity L. Scott, Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2020). While churches should not mimic the business world in everything they do, it is a good reminder of the unique context in which we live.
- Because metrics are changing. More churches than ever are looking at digital metrics. Most of them have no previous years’ comparisons. We also see metrics of conversion growth becoming more important than ever. And as we note below in the fifth point, new metrics will have to be used to account for the new sites, venues, and campuses that will open.
- Because around 20 percent of attendees will not return. This data point is more anecdotal at this point, but we are hearing it from hundreds of church leaders. Most of them are telling us that one out of five of the pre-COVID attendees will not return. We refer to this group as “the stragglers” or “the ex-churched.” This new reality is yet another reason why 2021 should be a new base year.
- Because the “multi-movement” will become more pervasive. Worship gatherings will be smaller. Churches were moving toward new sites, campuses, and venues well before the pandemic. That trend has accelerated. We will begin to see new metrics to account for new sites and gatherings.
The year 2020 will become a marker for history. For certain, it will be a marker that includes sickness, death, and dismal economic realities. But it will also be a marker for new opportunities. You are about to see God do an incredible work in thousands of churches in 2021.
I pray your church is among them.
Posted on October 12, 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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Let’s just stop and trust the Lord. This is the bottom line. Amen.
I am truly Blessed to be reading such well written articles. As a new Pastor of a small community church your articles has been a roadmap.
Could not agree with you more David. I too pastor a church of older members. However, many of them are back to church and we are wearing masks during worship. Whether attending church or not, they have been financially faithful and I as their younger pastor will not complain.
The in-person church service is not all there is to Christianity. The emphasis put on this one hour per week far exceeds that of being a Christian and acting like Jesus during the rest of the week, while at work and even walking down the street. Stop fearing “sheep-stealing” by other congregations and if you are that fearful of it, examine every aspect of what you are doing and saying.
One of the things that concerned me is that a number of churches and other religious organizations in their refusal to comply with state and local public health measures are raising a new barrier to the gospel for non-religious people as well as creating a public image problem not just for themselves but also for other churches. They have become so engrossed in their struggle with the state and local authorities over these measures that they do see how they are perceived outside their circle of supporters. They are seen as pre-occupied with their own selves and uncaring about the health, safety, and well-being of the general public. They are not only alienating non-religious people but also those attendees who are staying away out of concern for their own health. They are failing to reassure the latter that they will be safe if they return to church. When people have safety concerns, they are not going to return until they are convinced that they will be safe if they do. Telling them that they lack faith is a non-starter. It will only reinforce the concern that the church does not take their safety with the seriousness that it warrants. When one peels away the rhetoric about religious freedom and whatever else these churches and other religious organization use to justify their stance, one discover that the reason these churches and religious organizations are taking that position is that the public health measures would require them to do things differently from how they prefer to do things and are inconvenient. One also discovers that the same churches and religious organizations are in denial about the seriousness of the pandemic and have no sense of responsibility for the health, safety, and wellbeing of the community. “It’s all about us” is their attitude. This attitude is not lost on non-religious people. It is also not lost on Christians who are not only concerned about their own health, safety, and wellbeing but also the health, safety, and the wellbeing of the community. particularly its more vulnerable members. The same attitude is far from congruent with Jesus’ own teachings. This too is not lost on those who have a degree of familiarity with his teachings. They may have never attended a church but they have some idea of what Jesus taught. In 2021 churches and other religious organizations need to take a hard look at themselves and how they may be creating problems for themselves. At this point in time a number of churches and other religious organizations lack insight how they themselves are the cause of the problems that they bemoan. They may warn against the influence of the culture. However, they themselves have swallowed the culture hook, line, and sinker and are putting self before others. It is a real problem for today’s church and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought it to the surface. It is something that we are tempted to gloze over rather than grappling with it. If we are going to make a new start in 2021, we need to address this problem.
“They have become so engrossed in their struggle with the state and local authorities over these measures that they do see how they are perceived outside their circle of supporters….” should have been “they have become so engrossed in their struggle with the state and local authorities over these measures that they do NOT see how they are perceived outside their circle of supporters.” Unfortunately Church Answers does not have a feature that permits those making comments to edit their comments. While I proofread my comments before I post them, I appear to invariably miss something. I believe that there is a real danger of churches getting side-tracked. The biggest challenge I believe that is facing the contemporary church is how to do we reach and engage people in the midst of a major public health emergency. There is no point of insisting the pandemic is not as serious as the health experts claim as some churches are doing. The people that we need to be reaching and engaging may not believe that. Evangelizing and discipling people so that they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and genuinely live as his disciples is the task that Jesus has given us, not convincing people of the rightness of our take on the pandemic. This entails meeting people where they are and not discounting their concerns. If we discount their concerns, we erect a wall between us and them, a wall which will make reaching and engaging them more difficult. The purpose of the church is not to promote a particular view of an epidemic but to be living advertisements for Jesus.
I think the terms “stragglers” and “ex-churched” are too broad of a statement about those not returning. Many of that 20% will be like the ones in our church. They are elderly and have grave underlying health issues that prevent them from coming at times during what used to be called normal. many of them are afraid to get out and that fear will continue. They were very faithful before and continue to faithfully give and support the church in their absence. Their health concerns very well may be the primary reason they do not return. To downplay that would be to downplay the reason churches cancelled in person services to begin with. It would be best to break these down into groups based on these and other demographics rather than lumping all of them together under a negative term that may not fit many of the them. Just my thought as a pastor to an older congregation still dealing with these fears and concerns.
Good perspective, David. Thank you.