Ten Reasons Why Your Church Members Are Ornery in the Pandemic

There have been three consistent questions our team has received during the pandemic.

In the first weeks the question was, “When do you think we can return to in-person services?” 

As a number of churches began to regather, the question became, “When will more of our church members return to in-person services?” 

Today, a common question we get at Church Answers is, “Why are so many of our church members ornery?” 

The answer may seem obvious, that we are experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. After all, who would not be concerned, frustrated, and uncertain? But as we dug deeper talking with pastors and other church leaders, we began to understand there is no simple response to the latter question.

Indeed, we are finding the “ornery factor” to be more complex than it initially seemed. Here are ten of the factors putting your church members in a concerned and bad mood: 

  1. They are weary. The cumulative toll of the pandemic is telling. Some are weary because loved ones and friends have COVID. Some are just tired because of the pandemic in general.
  1. They are confused. It’s difficult to get a consistent story about COVID. Even the organizations of expertise don’t seem to be on the same page. 
  1. They are fearful. It’s easy to tell a believer he or she should not fear. It’s a challenge to fight fear with the barrage of bad news we get every day. 
  1. They feel like they have lost their church. In some ways, they have lost their church. It will not likely return to the way it was pre-pandemic. 
  1. They are weary of the cultural fights. In one day, I counted fourteen different cultural issues in the news where one or more groups were fighting others. 
  1. They are stressed because it’s presidential election season. The four-year cycle is here. It is always a stressful time even without a pandemic.
  1. They see so much negativity on social media. Indeed, Facebook and other social media can be harmful to your mental and emotional health. Social media is a magnifying glass to negativity. It gives a voice to those who were rightly ignored in the past. 
  1. They miss gathering with their friends at church. I know. The church is the people, not the building. I get that reminder daily. But the church is supposed to gather, and digital gatherings just have not sufficiently replaced in-person worship. 
  1. They have lost their outward focus. One of the reasons for the orneriness is self-focus. When we are focusing on what is wrong in our lives, we are not focusing on reaching and ministering to others. A self-focused church is an ornery church.
  1. They lament that their regular patterns have been disrupted. Even the most change-oriented of us need some type of routine in our lives. So many of our routines have been totally disrupted by the pandemic. 

If you sense your church members are getting a bit ornery, you are probably right. Indeed, you as a church leader may be struggling with some of these same issues. 

Let me hear from you.

Posted on July 26, 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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  • Kathy Hardie says on

    Especially difficult to do outreach when you are stuck at home! Wish someone would give us some ideas!

  • Thank you for your article. CoVid pandemic has amplified sinfulness. As leaders, we have prayerfully strived to make decisions to help all ages based on the best information from creditable sources while still trying to minister to people who are angry for decisions to look out for others welfare. Unfortunately, it has created division within our own lay leadership. Even had one of our leaders during a meeting relate to our protective measures as similar to the Nazi Gestapo. Ironically, it is the same leader that wanted me to order our members to stop getting together early on during this pandemic. In spite of other accusations, still striving to minister to them while not losing focus of our God’s vision for His church.

  • Many of those thoughts reflect the sad fact that people still do not grasp themselves AS the church. I have found the opportunities for ministry as plentiful now as ever. Maybe even more!

    This is a wonderful time to see God at work, and even join Him in the tasks He has in mind for us.

    That’s the case for me, at least.

  • Glen Land says on

    What I find most disturbing about the response of many church members to the stresses of our time is that it is so indistinguishable from that of the population at large. Once again we’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to help shape our culture in a more God-honoring way but instead, we are allowing ourselves to be shaped by that culture. We could take a lesson from the example of the early church’s response to the pandemics that swept the Roman Empire. See: https://www.covenantseminary.edu/theology/glorifying-god-in-the-midst-of-a-pandemic/

  • Bruce Hardt says on

    The reason people are confused about the information sent out? They’re confused because they’re listening to an idiot president who knows nothing. They’re drinking the kool-aid. Listen to the doctors not a fool for a president!

    • Karen Conner says on

      No need for name calling. Why not a call to pray for the President and those in authority over us. Also, listening to the doctors is confusing, as mentioned above. So many opinions and perspectives. Not enough hard truth.

    • Wayne Burns says on

      Pretty good advice…thanks.

  • Thank you for sharing this. I personally have seen almost all that you have on your list. I have also asked the same questions myself. It seems tiredness always begets crankiness, and we have been seeing it on steroids for the past few months. I try to encourage my people to stay focused on Christ, to stay positive, and exhort the hope we have, but it seems that those who need to hear it the most do not, as they don’t attend in person services nor do they partake digitally. Very frustrating as a pastor.

  • Chris Rogers says on

    Yup. The one thing that helps me is this was all a part of God’s plan . He didn’t wake up and say “Darn it! Now what am I going to do?” Perhaps it’s best to understand this historical situation and its effect on the church as a God-ordained re-orientation. What we tend to do is fall into partisan political traps.

  • Virginia Ward says on

    Very helpful and insightful list, Thom : thank you! It helps us approach our hurting congregations with grace and understanding.

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