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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  • Your 10 reasons resonate with my past and the present. One question I would pose is how do we, as leaders, acknowledge and defuse the orneriness? I think there are at least two traps we can fall into as we try to bring normalcy in the time of pandemic.
    Being Pollyanna and being stuck in our time of lament. The former doesn’t address the real issues of life in the pandemic and the latter loses sight of God.

    How might we capture the orneriness and translate it to something that is at least not wholly destructive? The interesting part of worship life in our Revised Common Lectionary based denomination, is the Sunday and daily Office reading have slogged through the bleak parts of Genesis and Romans since Easter and have lived the lament. One thing that has been helpful for me is to remember the lament is not just a gripe, it needs to use the gripe to focus on the promises and truth and God’s good news – in essence, we are not alone and God cares for us, even in the 40 year journey grumbling in the desert.

  • anonymous says on

    Just had a church member (former leader) chew me out after worship in the midst of others leaving the worship… mainly about our leaderships “COVID” guidelines that he does not agree with and OTHERS are not doing.
    As I calmly listened and told him I appreciated his perspective.. I encouraged him to speak with some of the other Elders..
    As the rest of the congregation walked by… he went on to get really Ugly and boldly demean me and my leadership ability.

    It was a sad sad display that I so wished others would not have seen as This man has in the past been a very Godly and respected leader…

    I so appreciate the “ornery” description… As I personally believe this is more “stress related” with the mentioned points.. then this man’s heart.

    “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
    Romans 12:17-18

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I hurt for you, my friend.

      • anonymous says on

        Thanks.. I SO appreciate your webinar and podcasts as they have offered a “balanced perspective” in Loving God’s people through this.. YET, boldly praying and seeing beyond the pandemic to HOW the LORD Is preparing His church for a “Glorious Kingdom Future”.

        Please pass on my thanks to your staff…..

      • Thom Rainer says on

        I sure will. The Church Answers’ team is incredible.

  • You nailed 10 very important reasons. I serve a great group of people, with a blessed heritage of unity that we don’t take for granted, but this has taken a toll on that unity for many of the reasons you have listed. Thank God that His Word still changes hearts and lives and that He is still sovereign even in these very unusual times.

    To be honest, I think a number of these 10 are ones I have to constantly battle, too!

  • Thom
    Thanks for your common sense down to earth comments. Much appreciated.
    God Bless

  • Most people right now are not in control of what occurs in churches, society, and anywhere else. Even those of us who have the best corporate jobs are overworked, isolated, and burned out. There is also polarization to the point that half the country would be ecstatic if they virus wiped out the other half. Stop cheering for the demise of other people and lashing out at everyone, unless they are spreading the virus and then they should be told that they are causing problems..

  • charles e ingram.sr says on

    great article very helpful,thanks

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    Why are people bad-tempered and combative? They are in the middle of a prolonged crisis with no clear resolution in sight. In a crisis people seek to reestablish homostasis—a relatively stable equilibrium in their lives—but under the present circumstances they are unable to do that. As a consequence their anxiety rises and with that anger and aggressive behavior. In this crisis which is a public health emergency of proportions that most Americans have not had to deal with in their lifetime a segment of the population is reacting with various levels of denial—a not uncommon reaction in a crisis—and the denial is exacerbating the crisis and delaying a resolution to the public health emergency. When we add to this picture the extreme polarization that has come to characterize US politics in recent years and the growing economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we should not be surprised by the heightened bad-temperedness and combatativeness.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Well stated, Robin.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      “In this crisis which is a public health emergency of proportions that most Americans have not had to deal with in their lifetime a segment of the population is reacting with various levels of denial—a not uncommon reaction in a crisis—and the denial is exacerbating the crisis and delaying a resolution to the public health emergency. ”

      More propaganda from the main steam media. Please people; do your own research and think for yourselves.

      • Robin G Jordan says on

        Craig, I do my own research. I have studied epidemics, how they spread, how people react to them, and effective methods to contain or slow their spread. I have also worked in a public-health related field. What you would like to dismiss as propaganda is gained not only from my training but also years of experience in the field.

    • Virginia Ward says on

      Very well explained, Robin : thanks.

  • Emma Pearson says on

    Thank you. When you are not nurturing your fellowship with the Lord, you are opening up to yielding to the flesh. I have inclined by heart to worship the Lord by focusing on Him and not the media. We continue to have in-service worship with 20 to 30 members and future members weekly at our church. We understand that touch is just one of the 4 important senses that we engage in daily- seeing, hearing, speaking, and feeling (touch). I am making the first three of priority at this time and it is a wonderful blessing. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” Philippians 4:13.

  • Rev. Bradford Traywick says on

    Though I believe there is a bigger purpose for all the past 4 months than what we see and hear, I really appreciate your list. Points 8 and 9 are spot on. I do believe we are created as social creatures needing touch. That’s all but dead now. Socializing (fellow-shipping) and touch are fundamental to who we are as humans. Think about what we have now: no shaking hands, no hugs, no embraces EVEN at funerals, or nursling homes where you have loved ones, and more. Yet, to sound Godly, we are quick to say, “But take courage; I’l be praying for you in Jesus Name.” People can’t even be with their dying loved one at the moment of transition due to restrictions. Shame! Call me crazy, but I believe this area of social contact is foundational. I can see why churches continue to meet, even though the media reports C-19 “outbreaks” every time they meet.

  • DeWayne Wyatt says on

    I am retired and have been visiting a sister church across town throughout the pandemic. The members are upbeat, joyful, gracious, and inviting. The difference? The pastor (a single-Staff church) is upbeat, joyful, gracious, and inviting. He preaches expository sermons every time (three preps every week). The Word of God is powerful and he brings it to life and the listeners make it a part of their lives. Additionally, the pastor and the church are gospel-centered and a Simple Church. The church is actually growing in members during this difficult time. People are drawn to a church that is alive and well. When the pandemic is over, this church is going to explode with growth. The church is in a small rural town in south central Florida. This is a REAL, Christ-centered church! Wow, I love it!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I love hearing about such healthy churches, DeWayne! Thanks for sharing.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head about positivity. If the leader is positive about their position and not doom and gloom – rather focused on finding good at all times, no matter how fleeting, helps the ornery people find some solace and ratchet down a notch.

  • So true! We’ve experienced all these in our church. Focus is key. Keeping our eyes on Jesus by spending time each day (all day) in God’s presence through worship and the word as well a staying connected in some way with our church as well as the Church as a whole is the only way we’re making it with positivity and peace. Otherwise, we’re all focused inwardly to what each thinks is the best answer for everything. Only God knows and can lead us in his wisdom. Thanks for a great post.

  • David Hopkins says on

    I agree with this list. I see them in my church members, leadership and even myself. I’ve been at my church 7.5 years. I had the most contentious leadership meeting recently. It was over the issue of, “when we reopen, are we going to require people to wear masks?” These are good, godly and caring men. I thought it would have been easier to pass a position statement saying “The Bible is not the Word of God and would therefore no longer be used in our church” than to reach an agreement on a policy on masks. BTW, we ended up encouraging people to wear masks but don’t require it.

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