Five Types of Church Members Who Will Not Return after the Quarantine

It is one of the most common questions we get from church leaders: When will all the church members return to in-persons services?

Leaders do not like my response: Never.

It is a reality church leaders and members are hesitant to accept. For most churches, not all the church members who were attending before the pandemic will return. In fact, our anecdotal conversations with church members and church leaders indicate somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent of the members will not return to your church.

From an attendance perspective, if 20 percent of a church with a pre-pandemic attendance of 200 do not return, the new reality attendance will be 160 in attendance after everyone feels safe to return. You can do the math for your own church.

So, who are these non-returning church members? Why are they not returning? Here are the five most common dropout groups. The groups are not mutually exclusive; there could be significant overlap.

  1. The decreasing attendance members. These were your members who, at one time, attended church almost four times a month. Before they pandemic, their frequency of attendance declined to twice a month or even once a month. COVID accelerated their trends. They are now attending zero times a month.
  1. The disconnected church members. If a church member is in a small group, his or her likelihood of returning is high. If they attend worship only, their likelihood of attendance is much lower. Please let this reality be a strong motivation to emphasize in-person small groups once everyone feels safe to return.
  1. The church-is-another-activity church members. These church members see gathered attendance as yet another activity on par, or lower, than other activities. They were the church members who let inclement weather keep them from church but not their children’s Sunday soccer games. Commitment to the church was a low priority before the pandemic. They have no commitment in the post-quarantine era. 
  1. The constant-critic church members. These church members always had some complaints for the pastor. In fact, your pastor may be dying a death by a thousand cuts. They are likely still complaining even though they have not returned to in-person services. Many of them will not return at all. 
  1. The cultural Christian church members. They were part of a declining group well before the pandemic. They were those church members who likely were not Christians but came to church to be accepted culturally. Today, there are few cultural expectations for people to attend church. These cultural Christians learned during the pandemic that it was no big deal to miss church. It will be no big deal for them never to return.

Church leaders and church members, however, should not fret about these losses. Your local church has the opportunity to write its future on a blank slate, and these church members really had no plans to be a part of that future anyway. 

You may feel the pain of the losses; that is normal. But God has a plan for your church to embrace the new reality to which you are headed. Head into His future with confidence. God’s got your church. And He’s got you. 

It’s cliché, but the best days are likely just ahead.

Posted on August 9, 2020

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86 Comments

  • There should have been a sixth reason.. in that true followers returned to their church and saw they were honoring the current facade and its ridiculous dictates more than the guidelines and teachings of God and so members sought out distant, more biblically oriented teaching, which made the absence more about where the church’s leaders hearts were.. and not the congregant. Its all about lampstand’s at this point..

  • Hello Thom,
    This is Shelia Poole at the Atlanta Constitution.
    I’m working on a story about post-pandemic worship.
    I’d like to connect with you.
    Thanks,
    Shelia

  • You missed the biggest reason why many Christians won’t return to church: we’re tired of dead, powerless, compromised, seeker-friendly church where the Holy Ghost is not welcome, where people parade around on stage like superstars and paid entertainers, where people leave with the same demons they came in with. No one gets delivered/set free, no one encounters the presence and power of God, no one is being discipled in what it really means to follow Jesus, no one is being trained in spiritual warfare, repentance, humility, fear of the Lord and obedience to God are no longer necessary, no one has eyes to see or ears to hear what the Spirit is saying, etc. we need to encounter Jesus, we need the holy fire of God, we need the power of the Holy Ghost and if your church is not a plumbline for the presence and power of God, if your church does not look like the book of Acts………stop marketing to people to come to your church, you have nothing to offer them. So nauseating. Here are a few ministries in America that are real plumbline churches: Deeper Fellowship Church – William McDowell, Revival Culture Church – Jonathan & Amanda Ferguson, Warrior Notes Church – Kevin Zadai where if you had to take a plane to get there, you would’t leave empty because Jesus is there.

  • Mark Hunter says on

    When you have a pastor who calls Covid 19 a ” Phodemic” as my former pastor has done on numerous occasions , then I will not go back. Friends i know saying they wont wear a mask as a show of walking in faith . Just ridiculous. They still have car insurance and their guns, why not get rid of those too in order to ‘walk in faith’ . The pride and manipulation is more than i can stand . Its as if Romans 13 does not exist . This is not what Jesus would do . ‘ As you have done to the least of me , you have done unto me ‘ ……Jesus

    • You walked away from a church who knew what they were talking about.. the base of numbers for this ailment were gathered from “presumptive positives” and already terminally ill patients with comorbidities, or instigated from sick patients being intentionally placed in late stage care facilities. Later, it was admitted, that hospitals were acquiring higher payment by listing this ailment as a primary cause instead of what it truly had been, a complication. We now know that there were only 925 cases of the flu this year after 810000 the year before. It’s pretty safe to assume that a large swath of those numbers went to covid diagnosis (if you don’t see this youre saying the mask worked for one ailment and not the other, and i dont know about you, but the way people wear their masks, I’d say their protection is more mind based then anything else. We are ALL cross-contamination masters )… I’ve already stated how there was motivation behind diagnosing this instead of a typical seasonal ailment. Hospitals, at the time, were told they could treat very little else, so the ones who didn’t play along, weren’t making any money. I won’t even get into how tests, sometimes multiple of the same person, or even signing up for one, was noted as a case, or how the tests themselves had a high specificity. I always wonder why some people can see past the going mantra and others can’t, but i pray that theyre given eyes to see.. This was used to usher in a different ideology, and now that theyve begun speaking about immunity passports and the like, I’d strongly and avidly encourage you to get back into the word of God.. because you’re not recognizing the hypocrisy of whats being presented to you.. months ago they encouraged protests while telling US not to sing or gather…riots/lawlessness.. but dont gather at church where there is peace and brotherly love! I see hundreds of new people everyday and worry more about what the constant mask use does to my health over anything else. I don’t know a single person who’s died from covid alone.. nor do I have any friends who have and I’m in a gathering business. (Im sure if we ever dove back into each case attributed to covid we’d see a different thing there entirely.) Maybe pick up a book like “The Summoning: Preparing for the Coming Days of Noah” by Carl Gallups.. or peruse other Christian authors who discuss the times we are in. Im not denying that covid exists.. but if you turn off the tv and really look around, its not in the manner they made it into. It was a device used to begin changing our system. You can’t have a global government with a prosperous America. The 1% it effected (which was a mixed bag of already tragically ill patients and word magic) was broadcast into a celebrity to constantly remind people of its existence (if we had only turned off our tv’s) and aided those using it, to reach where they needed to be.. a broke america, with citizens who will eventually beg their government for help or look towards a leader who promises as much .. the sooner you see this, the more prepared you’ll be when they begin to use it to say whether you can buy or sell.. I pray you find your way back to that church.. we are commanded not to live in a spirit of fear. Be hates (sounds like) has already promised with a dubious grin that “we’ll take the next one more seriously”.. be ready in your heart for that and the blame that will follow if thats the case ..because even though numbers show being at church has been a non issue, if the intention of their vaccine backfires, we’ll be the scapegoat. Ask God to show you the truth and He will.

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