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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  • Jim Swanson says on

    None of these apply to my family.
    We were all very active and miss being able to attend now.
    We feel it is unsafe to go to church because of the reactions to the pandemic by the majority of the other members of our branch.

    They denied the severity of the disease. They refuse the vaccinations and criticize those that received them. They posted how they knowingly go to church even though they have the disease.

    I won’t return until and if the disease becomes well controlled. Which it has not so far. I am disappointed that there are members that would rather listen to partisan disinformation than clear guidance from the Lords Prophet. So I no longer feel that deep sense of community and there is no sharing of common beliefs any longer.

  • Christopher says on

    This journey out of church began when my wife passed away of cancer. I still had some good friends, but to many I was just a widower with a misunderstood hereditary illness. The church urged us to join a small group. So I did, multiple times. Never heard back. Wanted to know why our ” worship team” performed songs by a church that covered up child rape. Was told that the church has to cater to young people because”young people are the future of the church”. (Funny, I always thought PEOPLE were the future.). Later a board member explained to me that anyone who disagreed with the church should not let the door hit them on the way out. I would like to explain to these people that I was raped multiple times as a child, but I think they are too busy with more important things. So I will just look for some other church.

  • You forgot “immunocompromised members for whom the church is making zero accommodation and who feel weird, ignored, and left out for wearing a mask or not attending when all the church has to do is open a dang window, get an air purifier, offer a small group that meets outdoors, etc to show any kind of genuine love for their neighbor.”

  • Many of us don’t come back because there is nothing to come back to. Culture taking precedence over the Bible, new age music, absence of rules, abusers without resolve and no censure, man made traditions, sanctimonious pastors who are detached in their own little worlds who won’t listen to church members but always ask for money every week – while doing not much of anything legit to get it. No sir. Some of us who are “critics” have every reason to be “critics” because for some of us, our complaints are legit. Many churches operate more like businesses than houses of God with man made formats and man made time tables. And their ministers? Many of them are only in it for the title and the almighty dollar – men who were ordained by Man and not ordained by God. They don’t preach all of the Word for fear of offending someone in the World and only preach the milk of the Word – not the meat. This makes them lukewarm. No thanks. Sure, no church is perfect. I get it. But some places simply don’t grow, they stagnate and mean more harm than good. Ergo such environments are a hazard to the follower of Christ. They cannot grow in such areas – they can only be afflicted – poisoned.

    Many churches of today are only empty shells – pale echoes of what they once were. And many of us grow weary of always having the blame being cast on us for leaving and refusing to come back instead of these hollow churches and their so-called “pastors” admitting that in some circumstances they are part of the problem – not the solution. Many of them won’t do that because they are narcissistic in behavior. Woe unto them. Many of these men have turned their churches into dens of vipers and are in big trouble with God. A bunch of pastors need to start throwing themselves under the bus for a change – but many won’t because many refuse fault which means they are narcissists. Funny thing: the Devil is also a narcissist. I have more respect for ministers who admit their faults and humbly try instead of always being in denial and act like what is known as “plastic preachers”. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. And many of their so-called members? They act like the cubs of such wolves.

    • Excellent thoughts, my husband and I will not be going back to our former “mega church” – way too political and re-opening the doors was ALL about the $$$$ . It’s sad really. Plus they do not care that their attendees have a higher rate to get COVID with all the un-masked spreaders.

  • Well you missed a big one.

    What about folks who never received any kind of communication from their church during the pandemic? No calls, no notes, no emails. Just a new flyer and some financial info.

    Well this me. And I will never darken their doorway again. I’ll go somewhere else with a better sense of pastoral care and what that means.

    • Jeannie Marshall says on

      I can relate to your comments. As a caregiver for the elderly I saw so many homebound parishioners who tithed, were active in their churches for as long as 50 years ( yes) who never had a call or visit from their pastor, nor deacon, nor members who drove by on a daily basis. I was so angry for one lady who cried over their treatment that I called her church and basically said, ” you still want her monthly tithe but not her?” He then sent a deacon one time before she died in hospital, where the chaplain visited and prayed with her daily but no visit from her pastor. We are a small community of approximately 3,000.
      Hey! Somebody needs to repent and promise to right this gross injustice to their elderly/infirm members.

      • There are a number of churches that simply shouldn’t be around anymore. Such places need to be shut down and pastors in these buildings must step down or be fired because some of these places and people mean more harm than good. It’s all a numbers game and money pool with some of them. They’re obsessed about “tithes” even though that’s an Old Testament legalist teaching and nowhere in the New Testament does it talk about tithing 10%.

        I and others would certainly have no problem going to my former church, kicking out a bunch of their so-called “members” and firing some of the pastors – mainly the Head Pastor. Don’t rely on the church board because these “pastors” blurred the lines in the rules so they could have more wiggle room. So the The Head Pastor who is a real ‘sanctimonious phony’ would be fired. However, the Associate Pastor is fine and genuine in the Lord. His position would be spared and he would keep is job. But the Lead Pastor and Song Pastor? Gone. Men like that are a dime a dozen in some of these so-called “Christian” churches. It’s quite nauseating actually that these people are in the church with no interest of ever changing for the better because they think they don’t need to change when everyone else around them knows they ‘must’ change.

  • “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.”

    One should mourn whenever a sheep is lost. Perhaps, some had to take care of the vulnerable, and saw the rest of their church abusing their liberty. There are so many reasons why people are not returning to their churches. Pastors should also be accepting of criticism during this time, while wrestling with how to best care for the vulnerable, while managing conscientious objectors (which, in brief argument, most do not apply in the case of COVID, not if we are called to love our neighbour). And, if you want to pastor a church without teaching compassion, kindness, and sympathy, you will succeed in creating yet another example of why non-believers stay away, because your hypocrisy isn’t even hidden anymore. The apathy and borderline sociopathy that runs rampant in churches today is sadly remarkable. Pandemics clearly have taught you nothing about what really matters in life, and how all Christians should be considering what this life is for, and how to best love those around us. Shame on you, honestly.

  • How about those who believe American Christians and churches misused the concept of “faith over fear” to not mask, socially distance or get a completely safe vaccine? How those who believe American Christianity is too closely tied with Christian Nationalism and that conservative politics has taken the place of actually following biblical principles? And I considered myself a conservative before all this. The pandemic has highlighted a lot of things about the American church that are not appealing to a lot of Christians.

    • It’s very disheartening when your church shames you because you need to be safe – due to health risks- they want you to mingle with unmasked and not vaccinated parishioners – no thank you.
      The church has really missed the mark. Good thing my faith is in Jesus alone !

  • You left out the dead ones

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • More like people are waking up to the non-existence of a mythical sky god that will punish you for an eternity if you reject him………… but he loves you.

    • Gerald Lewis says on

      People have left to find a church that lives out Christ’s calling to serve others – Matthew 25, the sheep and goats. Most of Christianity has has lost it’s way. It’s not about us, it’s about them.

    • Bravo Sarah. AMEN. Well said. SPOT-ON. There is nothing to come back to except a spiritually empty building full of the influences of Man. The Holy Spirit has been locked out of many churches. For they have sadly become dry empty wells without water.

  • 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.

      • The truth is — I have seen five (5) close to me lose their life. Do not tell me is “faith over fear” ridiculous. you really want me back for $$$ reasons why else do you beg us to invite more people to services.
        I see people leaving in droves.
        I still love God am still saved no matter what the Christian/conservative tell me.

    • Deborah Frusciano RN BSN ACRN CT, Faith Community Nurse says on

      Thank you for this brief concise comment. I am a nurse and I continue to be amazed at those who use the “faith” argument. God gave us common sense and expects us to use it.

      • Amen. Jesus himself was asked to throw himself from a tower by Satan knowing God would save him because his purpose was to die on the cross. Even fully knowing he would be saved, he would not do it. “Do not tempt God” was the lesson, but nobody wants to talk about that. “Faith over fear”

    • Well said.

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