Five Reasons Your Current Church Attendance Is the New Normal

Many church leaders and church members share with me that they are looking forward to the day when everyone is back attending church like they were before the pandemic. Sadly, for most churches, that is simply not going to be a reality. I understand there will be differences according to contexts, but it is largely true.

My thesis is not meant to be fatalistic. I am hopeful that you will take your current attendance as your base, or new normal, and seek God’s power to grow the church from there. I see this new normal as an opportunity rather than a defeat.

So, why is your current attendance a new normal? Here are the five most common reasons we found.

1. The habit of attendance has been broken. Gathering with fellow believers is a spiritual discipline, not that different from prayer or reading the Bible. Once you get out of the habit, it is difficult to return.

2. If someone has not returned by this point, they are not likely to return. Simply stated, these persons are out of the habit. In most areas, they have had plenty of time to return. They are now part of the growing de-churched movement.

3. Many who say they are now digital attendees have really dropped out. I was speaking to a friend recently who said she now “attends” church digitally. She really likes being able to attend the services in her casual clothes or pajamas. I then asked her how long it had been since she viewed a service. She sheepishly admitted it had been about three months. She is representative of a new and growing group I call “the inactive digitals.”

4. If someone was not connected in a small group, they are likely not returning. Take note of those who are currently attending. Look at your record to see who has not returned. I bet you will find a strong correlation between small group involvement before the pandemic and in-person worship attendance today. We are certainly seeing that reality in the thousands of churches that connect with Church Answers.

5. Many of the dropouts were already on the fringes. The pandemic accelerated the pace for them to become a dropout. It likely would have happened anyway.

While we certainly would not advocate abandoning all contact with these recently de-churched people, we would encourage you to look where the harvest fields are ripe, to use Jesus’ metaphor. Yes, it can be discouraging to see members drop out, but the opportunities are great.

Jesus said to his disciples and, thus, to us today, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields” (Matthew 9:37-38, NLT). The past two years have been a challenge in many ways. But Jesus promises a bright future to those who are obedient to his Great Commission.

Posted on February 7, 2022

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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  • Gary Morgan says on

    In my area, all of the churches closed the doors when the governor ordered it (that order was later ruled to be unconstitutional, but many churches still kept the doors closed). My thought was, “so, you fear the governor more than you fear God?” The executive pastor had even sent an email to the members saying that the church would obey God rather than men, but closed the doors anyway. I haven’t been back since

  • What is a current rule of thumb for recommended percentages of age breakdown in a healthy church? In other words, when evaluating our attendance what % of preschool, children, youth and adults should we strive for?

  • Michael Rowe says on

    There are other reasons for no longer apttending. During the pandemic, other health problems could have developed. My wife became quite disabled. Our village Church does not have an accessible toilet so that is now no longer viable for us. We have moved to a Church that does have one.

  • Greg Noble says on

    I could have written your article based on my observation and what I have seen in our congregation. Pre-covid patterns had already been established around attendance and “life” getting in the way of church attendance. We can predict attendance ups and downs based on school holidays. Our attendance is at about 70% of precovid levels. One blessing is that we actually got financially stronger during the pandemic. The other blessing is that we are seeing new families start to attend. Our mindset is starting to change and not going to let covid be an excuse.

  • Brian Benedict says on

    Thankfully that has not happened at Northwood Baptist Church where I attend… Our church has grown during the pandemic. One of the main reasons why is that we did not completely shut down….We social distanced and sanitized…. Today we are bursting at the seams…. Great Staff leadership…. People caring for one another .. people inviting people to come to church….

  • Thank you for sharing this information.
    It’s is shifting my understanding about church attendance.
    I want to learn more about it.
    Your website is so rich.

  • We are content for the numerical dynamics to continue at our church post-shutdown. Our church has not declined, instead we have increased. Dramatically. Pre-Covid we averaged 125-150 weekend attendance. Today, we are in the 1600-1800 weekend average. And we have a decent online participation from around the world and locally. The key to our success is seen in our decision to never shutdown. We have always provided in-house services without disruption and online access. I think that there is another significant reason why many people have not returned to churches that shuttered. People now question that decision and the leadership that allowed and advocated that path. Blind acceptance of governmental interference in the churches mission was a bad idea, particularly when churches continued to exclude people from gathering for inordinately long periods of time. Maybe the road forward includes repenting from a bad decision making process and determining that shutting down will never be entertained again.

  • During this season of covid our attendance grew by over 30%. 450 to 600 We never closed down and had outdoor worship for 2-3 weeks. Currently we continue to see growth in our two contemporary services.

    In addition… during this same period we disassociated from the UMC denomination.

    When you have people treat each other like leper’s and force them to suit up in hazmat attire, and close for a year… I am not surprised attendance is down.

    Thankful for leadership in our church that gave a sense or normalcy.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Churches that were able to have outdoor services in 2020 and 2021 seem to be faring better than others.

      • At FloodGate, we never had the option of outdoor attendance initially, as we are in Michigan. Yet our church grew from 125-150 average weekend attendance to 1600-1800 average weekend attendance. We never shutdown and continued to offer in house worship without interruption throughout the entire shutdown. Needless to say our church is packed with people, yet we never became a super spreader, only 4 people were hospitalized and 2 extremely elderly people died do to underlying health conditions that were aggravated during their bouts with the virus. As sad as their passing was, they were in the age bracket and health condition where life expectancy was-1-2 years at best. Incidentally, their deaths occurred weeks after recovering from the virus .

    • “When you have people treat each other like leper’s and force them to suit up in hazmat attire, and close for a year… I am not surprised attendance is down.”

      Well put, Chris! Very well put!