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.
Posted on April 20, 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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This conversation really did not sound like Christian brothers and sisters exchanging thoughts.
Please read first Corinthians chapter 13.
If we have to keep social distancing many churches will have to go to two or more multiple services.
Any thoughts on increasing/or having effective online engagement strategies for those that may continue to stay home for various reasons and worship online?
The word “church” comes from the Roman Catholics and is used as a club over people’s heads to meet in a specific building and it comes from the Bishops Bible of the 16th Century. The word means ‘called out assembly.’
Maybe if we start there and then find out what is the assembly we can go further than continuing to use Roman Catholic and Anglican language.
The word church does not come from the Roman Catholics. It comes from the Bible.
LOL, no the word was part of the Bishops Bible to continue the myth of meeting in the Roman Catholic Church which in England became the Anglican Church. Ignorance of history must be bliss in the ministry. No wonder people don’t attend.
I’m wondering if this isn’t God’s way of sifting and separating wheat from chaff, especially in the American church? Or preliminarily separating sheep from goats? The verse that keeps coming back to mind is 1John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
Is this some of the “judgement” beginning “at the household of God” that 1 Peter 4:17 is talking about? It is hard to say! It does seem like many cultural Christians and pew sitters are taking this opportunity to drop out. This breaks my heart for them. This moves me to plead to God for them.
And brothers, my hope is that we will be found faithful. That we will continue to preach the word and urge whoever is listening to draw near to God during this season. We can continue lifting up our Lord Jesus Christ, that He might continue drawing men and women, boys, and girls to Himself, and back to Himself.
That’s our challenge right now while not gathering in person. Thank God for the technology to be able to sow broadly and teach truth over the internet. And keep lifting high the Cross! May God use even this season for good and for His glory!
Your last point is spot on Dr. Rainer. Yes, the gathered church can meet anywhere and they should. But it seems to me that so many people just do not value worshiping together anymore. It amazes me to read the negative responses above about meeting together. Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” This is why worshiping together is so important. The church I serves seats 400 but on a good Sunday we only have 100. So spreading people out around the sanctuary will not be hard. The first Sunday of each month we share communion and then join hands and finish with a hymn. I am quite sure that the joining of hands will probably not continue and I am not sure that it will ever come back. However, the church must honor God by taking their faith in Christ seriously and by caring for one another at this time.
God is love and we love God through a relationship with him through Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit that is within us. God ultimately wants all of his children together in Heaven worshiping him. Why wouldn’t you want to be together here with other Christians worshiping together and learn what it means to love them unconditionally and have that close relationship that God is trying to teach us about before we get to Heaven. The common bond we have is the reason we should want to be together in a place where we can worship together. That is the Love of our wonderful Heavenly Father!
Great article! Do you believe this might be a momentum needed for churches to end the traditional meet and greet/ handshake time during the service?
We’ll see . . .
My faith is NOT ABOUT regular church attendance. Pastors, stop making it about ‘coming to church on Sunday’. Corporate worship can be awesome but most Sunday morning gatherings are anything but awesome. Meeting together was in person was the only option in the 1st century. It does not have to be in groups of hundreds or more. Meeting together to be equipped and encouraged, quite frankly can be done via Zoom. Is it the same? No, of course not, but it can be quite effective.
The longer and louder you ‘preach’ Sunday attendance, the more evident it becomes that priorities are misplaced. It becomes more blatantly obvious that the drive for Sunday attendance is one motivated more by ‘the bottom line’ than by much else.
The obvious fact that so many people do not attend every week is proof that by your own definitions (i.e. Sunday attendance) the weekly gathering emphasis is not a premise that most folks agree with. Yet, you beat it to death–and judge your own people by their failure to ‘see it your way’. You conclude that most folk just aren’t serious, faithful or committed enough and you ‘knew’ that was just to be expected.
Brothers, this ought not so to be. Christianity grew enough in the first 3 centuries to transform the Roman Empire. There were no church buildings. Churches met in homes. You have lost your way.
Sorry, brothers, this is a bit harsh this morning but sometimes the truth must be spoken. The emperor has no clothes. I love you but weep for you…
In your rather convoluted response, you obviously did not understand the essence of the article. By the way, the article did say churches can gather in homes. Read it more closely before criticizing.
I often wonder in Evangelical America if we have somehow replaced the Holy Spirit with the necessity for convenience. I find it odd that in the American church we are looking for more and more ways to “avoid” weekly gatherings under the disguise they are no longer necessary. All the while converts in other countries around the world place such a high value on the fellowship with other believers and the accountability therein that they are willing to risk death to come together.
What will be found After the social distancing and stay at home orders are lifted – believers longing for the fellowship with body or believers content with the comfort of their living rooms?
Too often Christians don’t like each other because they may have never had much opportunity to be around each other. Partisan politics divides people, then age, then gender, then marital and parental status. If that is not enough, then it is the ruling class aka leadership separate from the mere mortals.
I advise you to go back and read what the Bible says about the church. Regular attendance was very much a part of it.
Of course it is. My point is that there is a difference between meeting often and regularly for equipping, sharing and times of song and praise vs attending a brick and mortar building, organized as a non-profit business entity authorized by the government. The mistake is that we inadvertently over emphasize attendance at the ‘approved, certified’ organization and consider any other approach to be essentially unacceptable if it doesn’t ALSO include the approved form/format. Personally, I do actually attend an ‘approved’ form of church on a regular basis. It is an adjunct and enhancement of my gathering with the Church but not my primary resource.
When we place emphasis on ‘regular’ attendance on an approved format as a litmus test of some sort of commitment to following the Master, I fear we lose the heart and become Pharisaical regarding the form. That regular attendance naturally follows from hearts thriving as they follow the Master. Measuring attendance places an inordinate emphasis on the ‘butt’, not the heart–with much of the results that we so decry.
Where is this?
The one “minor “ point you are missing is love..
If you love the body (church) you will be there..
Why wouldn’t you be?
Amen, keep it up
It’s called Christmas and Easter. Besides, when going to church means singing the same simple sentence 10 times with a guy in tight jeans trying to get people to sing it with more gusto and then sitting through yet another long sermon from a preacher who may not understand the real world and the issues of daily life, it is tough to want to go every Sunday.
While you might benefit from assigning a reason for their so-called lack of commitment, exclusion cannot really produce anything else.
If that is all there is to your church attendance experience, look beyond the production of the worship service hour to group discipleship, service and volunteerism or a missions program there. If by some chance that depth of commitment doesn’t exist to be had there- look for another church. Many, many exist that do have more than a Sunday production. Or that don’t worship in that style. If you don’t want to do the work to find one, don’t use the excuse that church isn’t worth attending.
Why do you condemn and assume one exists if you look hard enough. Most of Christianity is in form only denying the power from which it comes.
I don’t know about that. They might not agree with you but I have yet to hear of a Christian church denying the existence of G-d.
A loud, hearty “AMEN!!!!!” for your last point. It’s appalling to see how many professing Christians have such a weak understanding of what it means to be the church. They say, “The church is not a building”, or “God is everywhere”. I always want to tell them, “Thank you, Captain Obvious, but that’s beside the point.”
It is more appalling how many Christians don’t know what the faith is. It is not what many people think it is, like denominational doctrine and polity. There is a lot more to it than showing up and sitting on a pew every Sunday morning. Sunday school did not teach the real faith, much less how to defend the faith. Evangelicals seem to have an issue with faith formation (confirmation) class since it sounds too Catholic. I learned the Christian faith from old Jews, obm, and was fortunate to have. Everything they taught was very close to what Jesus taught.
What do you call “the real faith”?
The real faith is the teachings of and how to follow Jesus.
Which “Jesus” are you talking about? The Jesus of the New Testament (i.e., the divine Son of God, crucified for our sins and risen from the dead), or the Jesus of modern theology (i.e., a great teacher and moral philosopher, but merely a man)?
Jesus, while fully God and fully man, still taught a whole lot while he was walking around on the earth.
Agreed. He believed in hell. He taught that marriage was between a man and a woman. He taught there was one way – and only one way – to eternal life.
He also taught a lot of other things besides those.
Which teachings of Jesus? His earthly ministry to the nation of Israel as revealed in the four gospels or His current heavenly ministry to the body of Christ as revealed in the Pauline epistles?
8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
I guess it’s easy to be offended and offer a reaction out of frustration about sporadic attendance, but it seems to me that a question remains unanswered. Why do people sporadically attend and not always stay connected? I think there may be some important trends that may need to be unearthed. Maybe it would be better to identify these groups and find out why they have dissonance, difficulty in patterns of commitment, or other issues and understand instead of making assumptions. I hear this a lot, but in all of the complaints, I see no change or solutions. Just an observation IMHO
I just finished reading an email from my pastor that 20 people attended last Sunday, mostly wearing masks. This is about a third of pre-covid attendance. We have very little covid in our area but still, caution is the word. A small study group of 6 just finished a zoom book club on “The Knowledge of the Holy” by Tozer. We met once a week for an hour which was to short and rushed, but so much more informative than a typical 20 minute sermon due to the preparation and prayer time before the meetings.
I have heard that zoom is associated with the ccp and that is bothersome, so I’ll be looking for a different venue in the future.
If anyone has a suggestion on this I cam be contacted at [email protected]