By Thom S. Rainer
A frequent comment I get from pastors and other church leaders often goes like this statement: “If all our members who attend regularly or sporadically showed up at the same time, our worship center would be packed.”
I get it. One of the more frustrating aspects of a pastor’s ministry is dealing with nominally committed church members. As we wait to return to our in-person worship services, let’s start addressing this issue before the stay-at-home recommendations lift. Here are five thoughts:
- We must address the reality of the 64% factor. Though our social media poll was not scientific, the large number of responses we received was indicative of the interest in the topic. We asked church leaders to provide us two numbers. The first was average weekly worship attendance before the pandemic. The second was the estimated attendance if everyone showed up at the same time. The results were astounding. The median increase in worship attendance would be 64% if everyone showed up at the same time. So, a 100-attendance church would have 164 present. A 500-attendance church would have 820 in attendance.
- We must ask the question, “Where have all the church members gone?” In many of your churches, you can do this exercise by each family. In larger churches, you can do a representative sampling. Look at the families and individuals who attend with a frequency of twice a month or less. Assign a reason for their lack of commitment. Is it sports’ leagues? Is it travel? Is it sleeping in? Is it undetermined or other? While this exercise might not be the most encouraging thing you can do, it will help begin your strategy with a healthy dose of reality.
- We must be prepared for the aftermath of social distancing. This issue will become particularly important if no vaccine is available for COVID-19 this year. Our worship services may have a much smaller capacity than before the pandemic. We may have to allow for more space between attendees. What are the implications for attendance at your church if this does become a reality?
- We must be prepared for in-person attendance to return in waves after the stay-at-home recommendations are lifted. We anticipate that a number of church members, particularly older members, will not return immediately. So, it is very likely that some of your “every Sunday” members will not be in attendance for several weeks. They will be watching the news carefully to determine when it is safe for them to be in more public settings.
- We must return to the post-COVID-19 world with a renewed attitude about the importance of the gathered church. I have heard this sentence countless times: “The church is not a building; it’s the people.” While that statement is biblically correct, it is often used incorrectly to minimize the importance of worship attendance. The church gathers so it can be the church scattered. Whether attendance takes place in a traditional worship center, a warehouse, a storefront, a home, or under a tree, it is still biblically important for the church to gather. We must stop apologizing for advocating the importance of committed and consistent church attendance.
What if all of our church members showed up at the same time? That is not only an important question to ask, it is an important strategy to begin.
It’s time. It’s time to stop accepting sporadic attendance as normal, and to expect our church members to be committed to gathering every single week.