What is keeping people away?

I have been observing one major reason people won’t rush to return to our churches. It isn’t the virus. I totally understand why someone who is high risk wouldn’t rush to return to in-person services. 

For many, however, it’s not the virus keeping them away from services. 

It’s habit.

People have fallen into a nice routine of online and in-home worship. Some of our best leaders have told me they enjoy their new morning routine. That might include watching an online service and it might not. It might include going out to breakfast, going to the lake, or sleeping in until noon. They will catch up with us sometime during the week, but not always during the actual service times. 

While this is a current reality for many church members, when I talk candidly to my pastor friends, this is frustrating. I understand. I look at numbers too. I feel the weight of filling our building and budgets. 

But none of us can escape reality. So, what now? 

Here are 5 things I would suggest for pastor friends:

Extend grace to people. Yes they need truth, but these are unusual times. People have to find their rhythm again. And the right challenge for us might be to help them do so, not to burden them with guilt. 

Chill out. Don’t panic. That should apply throughout your leadership. An old principle is if the leader panics so will everyone else. Your staff and volunteers are watching you. They get their perspective and hope from you. And both are contagious. 

You’ve likely said for years that numbers are God’s business. Our job is doing all we can to be ready for those who attend, but God brings the increase. Keep in mind, that is true in this season also. 

Measure different things. Most churches are still going to measure something. We will still count actual heads in the room, but how many are engaging online? How many of those could we get to participate in an online Bible study? What could we do to spur discipleship “growth” in a virtual world? If this is going to be a “new normal” for a while, then let’s go where the people are and keep making disciples. 

Use this season as an opportunity. This pandemic has forced us to improvise. Let’s not lose sight of that now that some of us can open our buildings. Let’s keep exploring, testing, and trying new things. 

Many of us have been sensing this change in attendance patterns for years. A pandemic exposed it faster than we could have imagined, but it’s not the time to give up. It’s the time to get going towards where God could best use the Church in the future. 

Keep inviting people. Don’t give up on people just yet. This is unprecedented. It will likely alter some people’s attendance patterns for a long time – and for some maybe forever. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that they are no longer a part of your church. I’m for church attendance. I think it’s biblical and helpful and we shouldn’t quit trying to get them to join us. But we may have to be even more creative to create environments they want to attend. 


Read more from Ron at http://ronedmondson.com/. He can also be found on Instagram at Instagram.com/Ron EdmondsonInstagram.com/Ron Edmondson, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ronedmondson, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ronaedmondson.

Posted on June 23, 2020

A nationally known Christian leader with an impressive history of church planting and church growth, Ron heard God’s call to ministry after twenty years in business. Ron received a Master’s degree in Counseling from Luther Rice Seminary, and a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Eastern University. He and his wife, Cheryl, an accountant, are passionate about people “getting it” when it comes to faith. They both highly value discipleship and mentoring. They have two grown sons.
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  • MJohnston says on

    People have gotten used to their new routine, are you serious with this?

    My mother is 84 years old. Her church recently reopened. She is not staying away because she’s lazy and enjoys sleeping in. She’s grieving the loss of her social circle. She’s staying away because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, no matter how many people wish it would just quietly fade away and this is real life now.

    This is a disappointing headline and a disappointing take on the entire situation. A pandemic is not the time to lament the lack of attendance. And if people attend just out of habit and routine, you really have to question what they’re getting out of the weekly gatherings.

  • David Caron says on

    Ron, while all 5 are on point I like #2…Don’t Panic!
    I speak quite often about this with my pastor friends….”Will there come a time when we should stop the livestream services?” “I don’t want Sunday church to become the “commercial” during the Saints game (people flipping back to Church during a commercial during the game)…Yes, I’m from NOLA! I think that I am a little more relaxed about it because we had similar questions after hurricane Katrina…and people eventually came back. For me, through a variety of platforms we have to keep extending the invitation—knowing that right now, due to health reasons we don’t want certain people back so they are not at risk. I also believe that the more that we are being outside of the church building “being Church” the more people will connect or reconnect to the mission. Perhaps in our discipling classes, preaching, and education (blogs, social media, print) we write/speak about the importance of physical presence, community presence, and being in the presence of God, together.

  • EMMA Pearson says on

    Thank you. We must be faithful. We must tell people to stay connected in person 1 time a week is only 52 times a year. We owe that to the Lord. We are who are followers of Christ will do it! Those that are not and have been faking it will not. Let us keep that in mind. This is not a new normal for the faithful. Dr. Emma Pearson, author of An Attribute A Day keeps the devil away.

  • We are in that high risk group, so still attending online despite reopenings. But we are actively in contact with Christian friends of all ages and around our country. What I am about to share may ruffle feathers, or bring conviction to some, or be blown off. But please hear it, pray about it, and then follow the Holy Spirit.

    Many are saying that once the hype of the music, the lighting, all the stage show manipulating (not that they thought of it that way pre covid 19 shutdown) was no longer available, something happened. The music might be online, and be good, but it wasn’t as loud or as soul grabbing as it was in person. So they really began listening to the sermon with a clear mind. And without the hype, they found the messages often either promoted just growing the church, getting on board and being a team member, or some other focus rather than Jesus Christ and the need of salvation. The sermons just were not worth listening to once they were truly listening not in an altered state of consciousness.

    These people are most definitely truly saved, and truly still actively serving Christ. They are not out dining, doing movies, parties, or otherwise getting exposure to the virus. At least not as much as employment allows them to avoid. What they are doing is “joining” new churches. Some find themselves attending zoom Sunday School or Bible study in churches hundreds of miles away. They have found some preaching that really is preaching Christ, not coddling folks or focusing on building the brand.

    I think maybe what we are seeing is the birth of a new way of doing church. Geography no longer dictates who can assemble. Instead folks assemble online and go serve. Some are doing non contact food distributions, or senior wellness checks, or going online to raise money to feed the folks laid off work. We can toss all the put downs about laziness, lack of commitment, or holier than thou maybe they are not saved bullying.

    I think folks are in effect not settling for bad church just because it is nearby church. Now technology allows us to find excellent churches, even if we are far flung satellite members.

    Maybe the new mega church will be online, not brick and mortar. And wow, think of all we can do in missions without paying so much for buildings!

  • Keith Smith says on

    Thank you Ron. As a Pastor, I see a lot of value in the topic and the various applications that could occur based on this article. If we as the Spiritual Leaders will engage our congregations that the Lord has placed us with, then we can lead the flock from in-person and in a distance separated mode. The Leadership of the church must find ways to maintain our focus on the vision that God has provided us and our churches.
    Since we are in new waters so to speak, there will be changes required and new ways to measure ministry for sure. May we all look to the Lord’s guidance and seek His will in prayer as we minister and disciple to the followers of Christ, seek to spread the Gospel to the unsaved, and learn daily how to look and think like Jesus. Be His today and always!

  • Craig Giddens says on

    I’m not sure Hebrews 10:25 even applies doctrinally to the body of Christ, but that doesn’t stop people from saying we are commanded to not forsake assembling as if that one statement should be reason enough for church attendance. God doesn’t want us assembling together just for the sake of assembling together. There should be a purpose and once we know that purpose and focus on it people will have a reason to assemble together. Church (meetings or assembling) is for the body of Christ to meet together for the building up and ministry to the body. Lost people should be invited, but the building up of the body should be the main focus. The most effective means of building up the body is through the teaching and preaching of the word of God. I enjoy and appreciate on-line preaching and teaching, but it is best when you are with and can interact personally with people. I’m not saying there aren’t other things for the church to be doing, but God’s word should be the primary focus. When this happens, the body is built up and believers can go into the world as ambassadors for Christ. Instead of trying to figure out how to get people to come to church or trying to get them to come via guilt trips, focus on what the church is for and do it and people who want to grow in their faith will come.

  • Is Lukewarm the New Norm? Nice sermon title!!!!

    I remember a statement from a pastor of days gone by that’s stuck with me.

    “When I was a sinner I didn’t attend church because I didn’t want to. Anytime I stop wanting to go to church I’m either dead or dying (spiritually).”

    Kinda hard… but a lot truth in that.

    Many people I see who have chose not to attend were already on the fringes anyway… I can only wonder whether they were really saved or just decided to be religious.

  • Yes, this is all so sadly true. I pastor a small church in Texas. Both the inside and online attendance have tanked for us (the novelty of watching it has died off). My concern is how much patience in not saying anything (which guilt for doing something against God’s instructions is natural and used by the Spirit to produce repentance). You nailed it on their other habits…like they (even trustees) go out for miles and several hours to dinner, recreational activities with dozens of people all day and then not come to church (though live only blocks away) because they want to play it “safe.” But you can’t say anything instructive or even disciplinary because it is a personal decision of health concern. Yet it appears it’s more an issue of hypocrisy and backsliding – yet we are not to address that in some way, even compassionately? If there is no church cohesively, tangibly together anymore then why do it? I love using technology and we are doing it full speed ahead so don’t get me wrong – but I feel if it had been the best way to do church Jesus might have established now and not 2,000 years ago. It needs to be a tool for outreach, discipleship, and for those who truly cannot physically come together with the rest but cannot supplant the physical church. Electricity outages, device failure, economic cost to do with highest quality will limit technology as being THE church gathered. I feel also after a year or so of doing this there will be articles coming out saying the new trend is physical gatherings again due to technology overload and fatigue. We’re just created to be social beings in a physical way (ever seen a bar or party event? no one suggests hey let’s just do this online from now on, nope). But we have lived in a consumeristic, self-convenience Christian culture, this was just the excuse needed to be more of that. Who knows where it will go eventually. I have a feeling though at the BEMA judgment seat there might be a lot of “‘splainin’ todo.”

  • Being church is surely NOT about filling a building and the collection plate. If that’s all Church is about, what’s the point???

  • Hi Ron. Your last statement really caught my attention. “But we may have to be even more creative to create environments they want to attend.” My husband and I (both in our 70’s) lead a Life Group made up of young married couples with young children. They are mighty busy people. We’ve stayed connected through weekly Zoom meetings, but even though our church has reopened for Sunday morning services, most of them have not gone back. Lack of child care is a big factor, but I believe our services had grown stale and unengaging. Hopefully, the leadership is reading your article and giving all of this some serious thought. Thank you.

    • I e found this to be our situation as well. We actually have more and better attendance with our weekly Sunday school and Wednesday night zooms than before. But not being engaged by anyone else in the church other than to post a pre-recorded devotional tells me all I need to know about the lack of outreach and communication form our leadership.

  • Goswell A Wade says on

    I love your perspective but ,staying faithful,to commands that we are not to forsake the assembly of our Christian brothers and sisters,in corporate worship and thanks giving.to our God and Father of our lord Jesus Christ.How can we as leaders and shepherd.nuture,our members,if they remained at home,I lived in a small village,and have very few members,and attendance is poor,This same place when it’s a party the crowds is overwhelming,As a pastor I and my Wife will continued to invite and visits ,but strongly believe,we are in the last days,like in the days of ,of Noah.My take is people will come,and worship if’s important to them.bars and sports arena is well attended.

  • Some people are starting to prefer daily prayer services as opposed to long services with long sermons. Some people are listening to clergy whose preaching skills are exceptional even with the 12-minute homily.

    Also, we must be honest. Some people really like not having to be around troublemakers and people, even lay leaders, who do not like them for various reasons. Use this time as an opportunity to rein in the troublemakers, replace problematic or incompetent lay leaders, and anyone who works to create multiple classes of Christian. Reach out to the congregation you have in person and online and not just a small % of those who pass all litmus tests.