The church I pastor has been open for worship services since Father’s Day. We moved the service times to allow for between service deep cleaning, roped off every other pew to allow for social distancing, added some mask requirements and committed to procedures for keeping our people safe. As far as I am aware, not one person in our congregation has contracted Covid-19 since we’ve re-opened (Praise the Lord). Our attendance has been running about 40% from where we were pre-Covid. So the Big Questions: who are the 60%? Will they return? Here’s my best attempt to describe the missing 60%:
Embodying Arnold’s famous line from the Terminator movie “I’ll be back,” these warriors will return. They were super involved before Covid and they can’t wait to get back. They hate that they are missing services. On-line is Ok, but it’s not the same. They hate that they feel guilty about missing services. They hate that they sometimes feel resentful that others are in church and they are not. They hate feeling guilty and resentful. They miss talking face-to-face with friends. They can’t wait for whatever “all clear” means for them, and they will be back.
These formerly very faithful attenders have gotten used to worshipping on-line. They like it. They like not having to clean up for church. They like sipping on coffee in their pajamas as the pastor preaches. They may not be back. If they do come back, staying at home for the slightest reason will be a whole lot easier.
These formerly regular attenders are using the pandemic as “cover” to search for a new church. Not satisfied with the pastor, the music, you name it, they have been shopping the other local churches’ on-line services. They aren’t coming back.
Hansel and Gretels
They are not coming back. They thought they would when the pandemic started. They left a proverbial bread crumb trail. But finding alternative things to do on Sunday mornings has eaten up their time. They loved this additional “family time,” and have convinced themselves that they don’t really need church after all. They haven’t recognized the slow fade in their heart for the things of God. They love Jesus, but have chosen to ignore the Biblical mandate to gather together. You could make the case, the Hansel and Gretels are lost, in more ways than one.
“Sometimers” are so called because just as some people refer to Alzheimer’s as “Altimers,” “Sometimers” seldom remember Jesus and His church. Pre-Covid, these folks attended only occasionally. They still will. Their attendance patterns are not that much different than before the pandemic. If they were showing up once every six or eight weeks, they’ve only missed church a few times since March. If you don’t tell them (as far as church attendance is concerned) they might not even know there is a global pandemic.
C&E-ers (Christmas and Easter-ers) will become CU L8ers (See You Later)
Like the Hansel and Gretels even though they have technically only missed one of their regularly attended services (Easter), it seems like more. They are even more distant and more disconnected than ever. Besides coronavirus won’t be gone by Christmas. There won’t be an available vaccine by Easter (at least they aren’t taking it). A crowded church will be too dangerous. A full church isn’t in their future– see you later.
Never came, never will
These folks didn’t come before Covid. With the negative press regarding church fights over masks or no masks; un-Christlike attitudes displayed by their “Christian” neighbors in this election season; and any other excuse the Enemy can put in their mind, getting non-church goers to come to church will be harder than ever.
We will likely not go back to a pre-Covid attendance numbers. If churches were struggling amid apathy and inconsistency before the pandemic, our current reality will make things even worse in the short term. “Short-term” because God is still working. Could it be that following this current pruning of the leafy yet unproductive church, God will strengthen the remnant readying these faithful ones for a revival and a new out-pouring of the Holy Spirit? Could it be that the shrunk down church might be a stronger, better church? I hope so.