Five Ways to Reach Those Who Stopped Attending Worship Services

It’s a challenge that has been around for decades, but it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Members who were once active have stopped attending worship. 

Indeed, some of the most frequent questions we get at Church Answers are related to this issue. How can we get those who stopped attending to return? What is the best approach? Is it worth our effort or is it a lost cause? 

To be blunt, these members are indeed hard to get back. Once they left, they established new patterns and habits, and church was not one of them. Some of them may not be Christians; they attended worship to be accepted or to please someone.

But, biblically, we must not give up on the one who has gone astray. Evangelistically, we have an opportunity to keep the gospel before them. Even if the efforts are difficult, they can really make a difference.

As we hear from church leaders around the world, we are listening carefully to some of the most effective approaches to reach those who have left. These are five approaches that are used by a number of churches.

  1. Call them once. Yes, it can be that simple. One pastor took a Sunday afternoon and called twelve persons representing twelve families. He simply told them that he missed them and hoped they would return. He then prayed for them. Three of the twelve families returned within a month.
  2. Pray for them. Many churches have prayer ministries, and some of them have intentional prayer for those who have dropped out of church. One church makes it a point to send a “we prayed for you” email once every other month. The emails are personal and written specifically to the person who is no longer attending.
  3. Keep them on a separate email list. One church leader explained it this way. You don’t put them on the email list you send to all members. They would recognize they are on a list that everyone gets; they would not be motivated to return with this approach. Instead, have someone craft an email that addresses these people specifically and pastorally.
  4. Be aware of points of need for these people. A pastor in Ohio shared that he finds someone who has a personal relationship with the member who is no longer attending. He asks the active member to let him know when the inactive member has a specific need to which the church can respond. One family of seven returned to his church when several people ministered to them when the primary breadwinner lost his job.
  5. Stay in touch with the children of the family. When a family stops attending, many church leaders said they had success getting the children or youth to attend specific activities. One student minister reported success especially when their peers invite them to an event.

There is nothing new about church dropouts. But the rate of dropout accelerated during the pandemic and was exacerbated by it. Yes, it is not usually easy to get people back in the discipline of gathering as a church. 

But God continues to work in many churches and in the lives of those who dropped out. 

He has not given up on them. Neither should we.

Posted on March 22, 2021

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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Hey Thom. Great article with wonderful ideas. There is a missing element in your equation. When reaching out to those who have stopped attending from your approach the only plausible explanation for their lack of attendance at your church is they have completely dropped out of church. That is not the case for many ‘no longer in attendance.’ Some people relocate. Sometimes relocation encompasses geographical change. At other times it includes relocating to a different church.

    I make it my practice to find out if the MIA’s are truly MIA from fellowship or if they have connected with a different body of believers. If they are really floating out of fellowship, I will make every effort to reconnect with them and reconnect them back to the church. This often involves finding the answer to the ’why did you leave’ question. If that question can be adequately addressed, reassertion into the body can be easy. If not, the challenge is more problematic.

    However, if they have left for another church minus a cult like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witness, I mentally mark them untouchable. I will bless them and encourage them to be faithful to their new house of worship and to the leadership, and then I let them go with a, “Remember us if your circumstances change and you decide to re-examine your place of worship.

    I honor the new church and their leadership. My actions reflect a value that I hold dear, I cannot pastor everyone. If they belong to a different fold, and they don’t fit in our expression of The Faith, let them know that they need to be where they fit best. Otherwise a I’ll fitted member can become a long term problem. At least that’s how I see it and it’s how I operate.

  • I was very active in church since my childhood but now I can’t force myself to go back. Churches which were and are active during pandemic broke my heart. Gathering despite the fact that it could bring sickness or death to members or their families looks like breaking of one of the main commandments to me.
    I understand that many members despise any safety measures and they will find another church if their church closes the doors, that’s why pastors risk their lives to keep their sheep. I understand that church has a tight budget, and church building needs maintenance, even water pipes need to continue functioning. I work in finance and I was in audit committee for my church, I understand how hard it is for the church to survive financially and how easy to sink financially.
    Still I can’t find any interest in my heart for sermons of people who compromise moral law of not harming life of their neighbor. God is the righteous judge to judge complicated cases but there are some cases which are obvious, aren’t they? Godliness has been always about keeping God’s law even if it’s difficult. I never read in the news about a church that went bankrupt because it refused to harm its members with coronavirus. But I’ve heard a lot about preachers and pastors and bishops who died, I don’t even mention church members. And even if church members are all okay, what about lives of healthcare workers?
    I understand that it’s government that regulates safety measures but church is always too quick to jump out of lockdown. Government is responsible for the healthcare budget, that’s why they lift the restrictions when hospitals have enough beds. But church is responsible for keeping moral law, I wonder if the commandment is lifted when hospitals have some free beds for sick people, many of whom trusted the church authorities.
    I continue to love and read the Bible. I wonder if I’m only one who mentions or pays attention to this reason of leaving the church. I’m not from the US but it’s the same everywhere.

  • There’s still hope. Thanks for sharing with us this Very important informative tools.

  • Dwight Hash says on

    Great advice for reaching out to those who have drifted away during these unprecedented times.

  • Guys! It just simply ISN’T about trying to get folks to come together for an hour all 6 feet apart and masked up. The music can be had anywhere, anytime. So it can’t be about that. The ‘sermon/teaching’ can also be had anywhere / anytime so it can’t be about that. But it’s all that’s on offer at most churches these days. Community you say! Well, while I may not be gathered in an auditorium on Sunday at 10am. (I can’t find that part in Heb 10:25). I am gathering with many parts of Christ’s Body in 2’s or 4’s or 10’s quite regularly, although not ‘regularly’ scheduled. They ARE the Body. I’m seeing God at work in lives and I’m seeing the ‘body moving smoothly and rhythmically together’ (MSG). We just aren’t doing it the ‘old’ way. Some of them are and that’s great. But, but, Worship, you say. Look at Romans 12 again closely regarding our spiritual act of WORSHIP, (hint: music isn’t mentioned).

    I find it appalling that folks like myself are being judged and considered to be ‘fallen away’ by folks like yourselves. I understand that your intentions are good, but in these days, this attitude and approach from days past will no longer serve you well. Embrace them, refine your ‘model’ to truly meet the needs of the Body rather than the needs of your government recognized, institution/‘club’. I’ve been resisting even commenting this way as it’s easily dismissed by so many whose life and livelihood depend on a return to the old ways. But seriously, what we’re being confronted with societally, is as momentous as Luther’s nailing the 95 Thesis’ on the door. The Church is thriving and being reformed by the Master, the Head and I would urge you to consider some new wine skins rather than trying to pour today’s society and culture into the old ones. Lovingly, Chris

    • Hey Chris, thanks for reaching out. And I appreciate your heart for fellowship and doing so according to the Word. I am fairly certain the heart of this blog was not for people thriving in Christian community that just won’t come to Sunday gatherings. But rather reaching those who have fallen away from the Christian disciplines of the faith. Those who used to attend and engage but no longer do in any Christian fellowship-not 2,4 and certainly
      Not 10. The purpose is to address the underlying reason for them No longer attending worship services. Keep doing what you’re doing, if it’s working great. Bringing division and a rebuke to the blog in the form of a comment is probably not the best approach. Just write Tom directly, I’m sure he will read your argument for the new-new wine skins.

    • Kelly Ferguson says on

      Your post although signed “lovingly” didn’t seem to have that same attitude. Just saying

  • If they are professionals, you should reach out via LinkedIn messenger. I see many clergy, at least in city congregations, on LinkedIn. They might have just found a different church or denomination.

  • Bradley Penner says on

    I appreciate these five ways to help people re-engage in worship with the body as prescribed in Hebrews 10:25. Each of these suggestions is warm and reflects the interest to care for each other.

    The entire body is strengthened as believers come {back} together in our worship of Him. I read… “The Body can function without certain members, but no member can function without the Body.” It may be that sin has crept into the initial stay at home mandates and the interest to be safe. Galatians 5:16-6:3 is a wonderful place to look for guidance.

    Hamon, B. (2003). The Eternal Church: A Prophetic Look at the Church—Her History, Restoration, and Destiny (Revised Edition, p. 44). Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image® Publishers, Inc.