Ten Realities for Regathering Churches

Though we don’t have a precise picture of what churches will look like two years from now, we are at least getting some early indicators as the congregations regather. Positively, there is a genuine excitement as more churches open and as more members return. The potential challenge is dealing with the expectation that your church will look like it did in 2019. It will not.

Here are some early indicators or realities for churches as they regather. Most of them apply in the North American context. These ten are the most pervasive issues we see right now.

1. If a church is to grow, it must come from evangelistic efforts. Transfer growth and growth from cultural Christianity will be a dwindling source for growth. Congregations must be serious about reaching people with the gospel.

2. Churches will have about 20 percent fewer people in attendance one year from now. That is the median point of the trends we are seeing. We will update you if that trend shifts in either direction.

3. Church facilities will be reconfigured. This trend was already underway. It has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We have mentioned on numerous occasions that worship centers will be smaller, but other facility trends are on the horizon as well.

4. A core of members will have a greater commitment to serve through the church. That’s good news, but we don’t yet know how big that core will be. We will keep you posted.

5. Digital giving will increase to about 70 percent of all giving. That number will probably be realized in about a year. Keep in mind, that percentage is a median. Your church could likely be different.

6. Churches will evangelize and minister to their communities greater than at any point in the past several decades. Again, this news is really good. It also portends well for the rebirth and renaissance of neighborhood churches.

7. The number of churches with Sunday evening worship services will decrease from 15 percent of churches to 10 percent of all churches. Again, this trend was underway before the pandemic, but it has been accelerated.

8. Church adoption will continue to grow. Church adoption is almost synonymous with church replanting. It takes place when an existing congregation decides to become a part of the family of another congregation.

9. Church fostering will continue to grow. This is an incipient movement that continues to have momentum. A healthier church agrees to help a less healthy church for a defined period, usually a year or less.

10. Shifting demographics will favor rural churches and churches in smaller towns. The pandemic taught employers and employees that most employees can work from any location. Many of these workers chose to move to less populated areas with a more reasonable pace of life.

 Many of these realities are in their early stages. At Church Answers, we are monitoring them and others to keep you up to date on what we see.

In the meantime, we would love to hear from you about developments in your church or churches in your area.

Posted on March 29, 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.
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  • Thank you for sharing “trends and findings”. It gives me hope, clarity and direction. Sometimes one can easily feel overwhelmed with everything that is happening in the world, but as we look at the word we see light!
    The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers few. We pray for more willing, able and obedient labourers to go and make disciples in Jesus name.

  • (Roy) DeWayne Wyatt says on

    I have a passion for helping churches develop a culture of evangelism. This article provides additional ammunition (additional to Sam Rainer’s article: “Church Leaders, Let’s Talk About and Do More Intentional Evangelism”). Yes, new converts will be the key to future sustaining church growth. This is a difficult task. I talk to small groups and encourage them to practice sharing the gospel with each other (role playing), but there is virtually no interest. Actually, it’s a new concept to most of them—few pastors talk about it. However, I believe evangelism will make a comeback soon.

  • Curious about the Sunday evening reduction. It would seem that COVID encouraged us to be available when people are available and Sunday PM would be one such time. Just asking

  • I would like to know more about reconfiguring church facilities. What does that look like and what are some examples I can see and learn from? This is the biggest issue for us right now.
    Jon Thompson
    Lead Pastor
    Countryside Christian Church

  • Whew. That’s a relief. Thank you for responding.

  • John Emanuelson says on


    People that attend our churches today know a great deal about the contents of the Bible, but they receive very little training and encouragement in outreach. So, they know how many times the people circled the city of Jericho before the walls collapsed, but they don’t know if the woman that lives next door attends a church.

    • William Bolin says on

      Hello John. I don’t know about every church, but I do know about the church that I pastor. We are intentional in communicating the truths of Scripture from the pulpit, multiple Bible Studies, and small groups. That’s one level.
      The other level is that we are intentional in outreach. We have developed street evangelism teams that hit the bricks multiple times a week. We have people who go to rescue missions to feed people and minister the Word. We have children’s outreaches like a egg hunt this afternoon where we have almost 300 children preregistered. Every summer we conduct a VBS.
      We conduct outdoor worship events in parks, and have indoor choir events at Christmas and Resurrection season. Last night we conducted a Tenebrae service as a community outreach.
      In short, we adopted a attitude that smells of intentionality. This is a attitudinal adjustment that church leaders must accept if we are to walk in obedience to the great commission and the great mandate. The lost must be found, The found must be discipled.
      As to restarting the church, that has not been an issue for our church in Brighton Michigan, FloodGate Church, as we never shut down a single Sunday, despite the fear factor of covid, initially. We new it was a real, potentially dangerous virus, but we chose to remain open to minister to people during the crisis.
      God honored our obedience to the Word that admonishes us to never forsake the assembly of the saints. Our church has grown from 150 average attendance before covid, to 1200-1500 average attendance per weekend now. That number does not reflect the 500-800 online viewership we have with our streamed services.
      My advice to all leaders is to develop an intentional response to outreach and to developing strong followers of Christ. Restore your churches to activities and programs that worked prior to covid. Add new functionality to replace what wasn’t working before. If there is a advantage that the great church shutdown has produced, it is the possibility of resetting your ministry, becoming efficient and effective.

  • John Emanuelson says on


    When I became a Christian 40 years ago I immediately recognized that few people in churches reached out and shared their faith. The problem was personal because nobody had ever told me, not once, in my first 44 years of life about the wonderous, miraculous, unprecedented, and never-before-experienced changes that God fashions in someone He has brought to faith.

    The leadership in vast numbers of our churches is more devoted to teaching the people in the pews the number of times the people circled the city of Jericho before the walls collapsed and about Jesus’ relationship to Amos and Hezekiah’s prayers to the Lord than they are to how to bring their neighbors, friends, and relatives to Christ.

    Something more, way more, must be done. As soon as yesterday!

  • Thanks, Thom. Always appreciate your insights.

    We are doing better than in people returning right now. Our attendance is rebounding very well, but we are not seeing #4. Other than some key leaders and most of our children’s workers, we are struggling to get people to engage again in ministry. Carey Nieuwhof’s post today suggests people are going to be more selfish as we move out of COVID. Maybe that’s part of it.
    We have some work to do! Thankfully we do have people looking for ways to reach our community effectively.

    #7 is right on target for us. People were voting on Sunday night with their feet pre-COVID, and we won’t be bringing it back in its old form.

  • Did you really mean, #2? 20% fewer people one year from now?

    • William Bolin says on

      Brian, I think that projecting a expectation of decline will produce decline. My philosophy is to look for ways to advance. Influence your community, don’t retreat from the opportunity to mingle and offer our greatest resource in a time of crisis, hope. And set yourself toward defeating a shrinking church. Do everything you can think of to reverse this course heading. Make growth the target you aim at during this next year. Aim high. Never aim low. By aiming high, even if you don’t achieve your target, at least you will give yourself the opportunity to hit higher than you would by accepting a lowered expectation.

  • Does the 20% drop indicated in point #2 take into account the already diminished numbers most churches are experiencing? In other words, is it a 20% total drop from the time of the beginning of the pandemic, or is it another 20% decline in addition to what has already been lost? If it is the latter . . . that is a really BIG hit.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Gregory –

      The 20% is the drop from pre-pandemic numbers. Thanks for asking for clarity.

      • William Bolin says on

        Hello Thom. Our experience has defied the expectations. We have grown from an average of 1550 pre-covid to 1200-1550 average per weekend. We had to add services to accommodate the growth, and those numbers do not include our online viewership or the weekends where we host conferences (2600 average), Easter with an estimated 3,000 plus. We are seeing at least 25 first time visitors per weekend.

      • Thom Rainer says on


  • Dr. Phyllis Weaks Sanders says on

    Good information for reflection and direction. Thank you.