The 30-40-30 Hypothesis for the Post-Quarantine Church


Are we beginning to see an attendance pattern among churches in North America?

During our weekly Church Answers team meeting, Chuck Carter raised this question. He coaches several pastors for Church Answers. Other team members chimed in, particularly those who work with church leaders every week.

There was a sense of unanimity among us that he was seeing what we all were seeing. For now, we are calling it the 30-40-30 hypothesis. Let’s look at some of the salient points we affirmed. 

  • Compared to pre-COVID numbers, about 30% of church worship attendance has disappeared. Of course, this number represents an observation more than detailed research. Also, there are always outlier churches. For example, one megachurch pastor told me that his worship attendance is only at 50% at this point. Another pastor said to me that his attendance is 110% above pre-COVID numbers. But, overall, we agreed that 30% is a good representative number for those who have not returned to worship services.
  • About 40% of the attendees that have returned are only marginally committed. They may show up once a month, twice a month at most. They are attendees only. They tend not to be involved in small groups, nor do they get involved in ministries in the church. Many church leaders suspect they do not significantly support the church financially, but most of these leaders admitted they do not have access to individual giving records.
  • Another 30% of the pre-COVID number have returned, and they are significantly committed to the church. They are involved in ministry and volunteer positions. They fill gaps where others have dropped out. They attend worship services with almost weekly faithfulness. And they are likely committed financial supporters of the church.
  • In summary, the 30-40-30 number represents the dropouts (30%), the marginally committed (40%), and the committed (30%).

Church Answers was planning to move forward with a more statistically reliable survey of churches regarding attendance patterns, but we are postponing it for now. We want to see how long this current COVID spike lasts. It is premature to determine how churches are doing when we have no idea what a new normal may look like.

We would love to hear from you regarding attendance patterns at your church. Is your church experiencing something like the 30-40-30 attendance pattern? If your attendance patterns are significantly different, let us know what they are.

Also, we see a slower recovery among larger churches, particularly churches with an attendance above 500. And megachurches (average weekly worship attendance of 2,000 and above) are recovering the slowest. Is this pattern true for those of you who serve larger churches?

These are challenging times for everyone, particularly church leaders. Please know that our team at Church Answers prays for you regularly. We are here to pray for your specific prayer requests and help you in any way we can.

Above all, thank you for your ministry in serving others in the name of our Lord. Despite the challenges you face, be assured that your work is not in vain.

Posted on August 30, 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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  • Julie Raffety says on

    I found this article very interesting. I do think the 30-40-30 holds some truth for us (small church off 100 members, 60 in worship pre-pandemic) for in-person attendance. But, with online attendance included it is not as accurate. Would love to hear those numbers and statistics incorporated. Thanks!

  • Not sure when this research was done, but was it done in light of State mandates that some Pastors followed and others didn’t? Was the fact that some states only allow 50% occupancy fotheir sanctuaries, if the Pastors followed the mandate? Therefore, everyone who used to attend could not attend every Sunday. Was it considered that those who don’t attend may be watching their Churches services by streaming and social media? I am trying to understand in my own mind the purpose. Is it to say that because of COVID people are no longer serving the Lord because they don’t come to a church building for service? Additionally, with the pandemic gaining strength again because of the Delta variant, it would appear that less people, since we have at least 30% or more of our churches with a population of 65+ members. I honest support the research and the articles written; they are extremely helpful. But this one caused me to pause and think about how it can be helpful. Bottom line, fear is driving some to get vaccinated now who were not going to get vaccinated and that same fear will drive them to the Lord, because they might be on the fence about heaven and hell. So, our focus as leaders should be to ensure the Gospel is preached to many and not so much worry about butts in seats – I believe.

  • With 50 years of ministry now I must say truthfully that when all is said done, ( dealing with America only ), I find there are three kinds of people in this America we love.
    1. unreligious , the natural or unspiritual person, Who is governed by their natural instincts. basically 1st Cor 2: 14: 2nd Peter 2: 12.
    2. The Religious carnal person, they attend services, but are just religious but not born again. They are not separated from the world as the lord demands 2nd Cor 6: 17-18 . They still embrace the worldly evil pleasures, evil fashions, worldly attactions, etc 1st John 2: 15-16.
    3. The born again from above with the Holy Spirit dwelling with in and bearing fruit, separated from the World’s corrupt word system. John 17: 15-16; 2nd Tim3: 1-5, James 1: 27,; 4; 4.
    The first two is where we need to concentrate our teaching and preaching. Our attitude and energy must be directed to the message of the Word of God, not phycology , not philosophy, not accommodating by ticking the ear but to the Word of God, the urgent message of the good news. Only Jesus has the answer and only He saves.
    It may not be popular but it gets results.
    God Bless

  • Appreciate the fine work. I am seriously considering that part of the new normal will be true instability. School start up spike+/- School COVID surge, COVID season, flu season, Christmas attendance spike, New Years Resolute spike +/- post Christmas COVID surge, Easter spike, and summer. And none of this includes a variant that may get around the vaccine. While this will press down on traditional church rhythms it could also move the church into healthier practices that are more incremental, more adaptive, and more focused on a profound love for Christ and for people. We may also need to keep picking up the phone and reaching out to the missing 30%.

  • We actually grew but have seen a lot of people in and out visiting because their churches were closed and they didn’t do social media. God has blessed us, but what we are seeing I believe is the a separation of those who truly believe in God and won’t let any thing or anybody stop them. We never closed on Sunday service at all, we did stop Wednesday services for the month of April 2020 then realized if we can still go to Walmart, Lowe’s, restaurants, then we can come to church. People are looking for a real move of God and people who are real and genuine not fake.

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