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


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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113 Comments

  • Abraham Mwangi says on

    Thanks Thom for this great work. I Pastor a congregation of 200 members in the outskirts Nairobi-Kenya. When the church doors were closed I was greately disturbed because of 40 new converts/members that had bearly completed Q1 of the 1 year discipleship program. God gave me a subject focusing on Adversity to preach online through the dark season. The Last lesson was entitled “Christ is Above All”. The lessons were put on(Facebook, Youtube, whatsapp, sms, and on emails) This was followed by phone calls to individual members where key points and verses of a lesson were shared. The 20 members of the team working with me on followup were so enthusiastic that some would ask for more assignments.
    By Gods grace, I must testify that we remained connected with the members during the dark season and their giving remained unaffected. Upon the church reopening, not all members were eager to return as I had expected.
    Another type that may not return are those who relocated their place of residence due to loss of jobs/bussiness . There could also be some who have fallen from the faith in Christ, and will not be willing to come back.
    But we need to appreciated that the church has been in some form of exile domiciled at their homes. Even after the captivity of Jews lapsed and God worked out their return, Not everyone was willing to return, so the scenario is not different.
    All is not lost, We should continue doing followup and even look for that one lost sheep out of 100.
    Prayer is key for this members who have aquired inertia, with regard to returning to Church. The God of all grace will rekindle the fire and zeal for fellowship, ministry and service.
    Once again thank you Thom

  • This article pertains to Protestant churches.

  • Randy Curry says on

    Our church requires mask, social distancing, every other pew empty. Streamed sermons on Facebook only during beginning of outbreak and still do for those not comfortable returning in person yet. But most true Christians want the fellowship of other Christians. We don’t shake hands or hug each other like we used to, but just seeing each other and talking to each other, singing hymms together and worshipping with others gives me such a lift. We offer mask to those who don’t have one and I can guarantee there is less chance of spreading germs than going to the store and handling items that numerous people handled before you picked it up and put in your cart. It’s a matter of priorities and my priority is to go to church and worship my Lord and Savior every time the doors are open.

    • I wish I had a church like yours. My entire town in Oklahoma has no church that requires mask. Most refuse to acknowledge the pandemic. And the vulnerable population has been abandoned or judged for not coming to an unsafe church. I’m hurt and I’m heartbroken. God bless your church. My church has lost me.

  • Ken Kreitz says on

    A better question is WHY hasnt the church returned to in person services? MY FORMER church has yet to return to having in person services, so I found one that did……. Almost died laughing when I heard that one of the former pastors messages was on “do not be afraid”.

    • I found another church while waiting for my home church to get back to normal. Best part is they don’t require masks!

  • Before you come up with reasons why people aren’t and won’t come back to the church, ask yourself a question what does the church have to offer the people? What is the mission statement of the ministry? What can the ministry offer you to make your worship experience that much better. Do I know each congregant and family by name. Do I actually like the job God has called me to do or am I just a hireling. Who isn’t vested in the community or the church. Am I a leader that people want to follow? Do I really have a vision? If you haven’t examined yourself first as a leader, your not a leader

  • Im in total agreement with you. If you haven’t seen or heard from your pastor during this pandemic, that’s a problem.

    • Well I haven’t heard from my pastor during the pandemic at the church I used to go to before Covid hit. I watched online after that. In fact he wouldn’t even take to the time to answer any of the legit questions I had about why Sunday evening services were canceled, even after the Covid restrictions have been lifted. He avoided the topic but just wouldn’t respond after I pressed him on the issue. Suffice it to say this is when I had discovered that this man’s spirit wasn’t right. In fact, he has been doing a number of wrong things in the church and upon further inspection drew several red flags, after I asked the Lord to have me test the spirits of this church and its head pastor’s “ministry”. I’m no longer with that church. I’ll visit it though but only on two conditions: (1) There’s a Sunday evening service, & (2) That pastor, who is bad news, isn’t preaching. It’s time he step down and realize he is not suitable for his position. If Conditions 1 & 2 are not met, they’ll never see me in their sanctuary again.

  • Why judge people who do not go to church?? I know several people who do not go to church who are much better people than those who do. Some of the worst people I know go to church. These are the people who turn others away from Christianity. Going to church does not make you a Christian.

    • This article didn’t sound like judging people who don’t go to church. There was no negative connotation towards them or words of judgement. Just fact and opinion. Nowadays, anytime an opinion is expressed that contradicts yours, it’s judging! That is not always the case. Actually reading your comment actually makes you sound quite judgmental. With the same stick we measure others, we should measure ourselves. However, you are correct going to church does not make you a Christian! I agree with you on that.

    • I agree . Hey I go to church, for exactly that reason. Not to show that I am a good Christian, but to be reminded of the fact that ,the temptation ,to be a bad one, is Just around the corner so to speak.
      It’s the bad ones that need a saviour not the good ones, so we might think.
      But I believe we all don’t measure up to wat God requires of us. Unless you believe we are all good but turn d bad, because of the circumstances that surround us. But I guess that is what you call being tempted.

      I find that since COVID forced us to stay home, that I am becoming lazy .and am not keeping up with reading my Bible . I was more motivated, when I was going to church every Sunday.

      Still that going there didn’t save me , Jesus Saves

    • Johnny Baker says on

      No, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, but neither does singing hymns, praying, or reading God’s Word. But shouldn’t a true child of God desire to do those things? I would like to hear that statement made in the presence of the early church in Acts…or in the presence of Christ Himself Who DIED for the CHURCH. The Word of God tells us to not forsake the assembly of ourselves together in Hebrews 10:25, as it becomes a habit and it goes on to say that we will need one another in the last days in anticipation of Christ’s return.

  • clarence a. little jr. says on

    you forgot the one’s who are non-conformist with the sheep who comply with all the state and local authorities mandates over this pandemic.

    • FollowTheRulesIdiot says on

      There is something really wrong with you. You are putting others in danger. You are a danger to yourself and others. You need to see a mental health professional ASAP. Buttholes like you who ignore good science is one of the reasons why I will not be returning to my church.

  • Rev. Mia c. McDowell says on

    Given, this perspective. who is likely TO return to church when its safe?

  • There are also many indigenous, black and people of colour who may have been harmed by the racism (even if it is unintended or stems from unconscious bias) within the church and have been disappointed with the church’s inability to lead in a way that centres justice and the least of these.

  • A possible 6th area might be the committed member that is deeply frustrated/disappointed with how their church leadership led thru this time of the pandemic…..I.E. not following CDC guidelines, going back to “normal” too early, etc.

    • Im in total agreement with you. If you haven’t seen or heard from your pastor during this pandemic, that’s a problem.

  • I would add a sixth group – church members who have decided to attend elsewhere. Church issues have been magnified in many ways, some churches have failed to connect with members while their doors have been closed, and some have found a church that is open and welcoming, while their own church remains shuttered. I suspect there will be much shifting from church to church with a great impact on volunteer pools.

    • Cyndee, you are correct. We had our first Covid-defection this weekend. She joined another local church that is reopening faster than we. Ironically, her demographic (90-years old) is the very reason we have been slower to return to full reopening. We are largely a senior adult church. Thankfully, most of our member appreciate our measure response.

    • Richard Heyduck says on

      We’ve been slower to open than some churches in our community. We’ve been asking people to wear masks when at least some other churches are not. This also comes alongside political divisions in the country that are another force for division in the church. I’m afraid some of our people are seeing us as irredeemable for being on the wrong side of these issues.