Who Is Coming Back To Church? (And How Do We Lead?)

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It’s obvious that attendance in physical buildings has dramatically declined over the past year, and with so many still disconnected from true engagement, what’s the best way to go forward? Let’s start with something encouraging, people are coming back! Even some who have been away for a year!

When you consider who has and who hasn’t returned to church, what’s the best way to lead? Start by knowing who. That will shape how you think, pray and make your next steps

Question 1. Who is Returning?

There seems to be four main groups among the first to come back:

  • New guests are coming to church, those who haven’t attended in years or never attended!
  • Regular attenders who are now more comfortable with large crowds again.
  • Volunteers who feel a heightened sense of calling to serve.
  • Those who are hungry for worship and have not kept that practice on their own.

Do these groups match what you are experiencing at your church? Know who is returning and lead in that direction.

Question 2. Who is Not Returning?

Perhaps the more important question is, who has not yet returned and why?

  • Those who have developed new habits and patterns for their weekends that do not include corporate worship. Those who have drifted from their habit of attending church do not deserve judgement, or even criticism, this merits our prayers and very best effort to offer an experience worthy of their return.
  • Those who are not ready to return yet due to COVID concerns.

COVID started as a crisis, became a reality we live with, and we continue to pray for its end. A twofold approach is helpful regarding COVID and the return of your congregation: First, be respectful of people’s lingering doubts and concerns. Second, it’s good to encourage them to come back as soon as they are ready.

There is a saying that old habits are hard to break. New habits can be hard to break too, so many people need your encouragement to return to church. Not guilt or pressure, but genuine encouragement.

  • Those who are attending now, but not at your church. They have chosen another church.

I truly understand how people leaving your church to attend another can be very discouraging, but the best choice is to be glad they are worshipping somewhere. It frees you up to serve well those who want to be at your church.

If possible, it’s important to let them know that should they ever sense the Holy Spirit leading them back to your church, they are fully welcomed no questions asked.

NOTE: The above lists are not based upon statistical data from surveys. They are, however, from first-hand conversations with many dozens of churches across the country, and secondary conversations from hundreds of churches.

Let me establish an important caveat before going further:

In the world of digital worship, online is important and needed. In addition, something really cool is gaining momentum through various micro-site strategies. Small groups of people who are committed to their church are meeting in homes and other venues, fully engaged in the worship service, and reaching their communities!

With that acknowledged, let’s not miss the obvious opportunity, there are millions of people in the US alone who don’t engage in any option and you probably have room in your church building.

5 Priorities to Focus on as You Rebuild Your Congregation:

  • Spiritually Engaged Worship

Your weekend worship services do not encompass the full scope of your ministry, but that is typically where people first engage. Are they life changing experiences?

Excellence in planning and execution are vital, but the presence of God’s spirit brings life changing power and creates an unmistakable difference in your worship services.

How do you evaluate and elevate the spiritual component of your services?

  • Authentic Community

Knowing and being known is at the core of Christian community, both in relationship with Jesus and with each other.

This is not meant to imply an unhealthy sense of an ingrown lifestyle, but one that matures together for the purpose of reaching out to bless others with the good news of Christ. Authentic community includes honest relationships, encouragement, serving, challenge toward maturity, personal growth and a sense of unity in Christ.

  • Opportunity to Serve

Many churches are struggling to rebuild their volunteer teams right now, especially in children’s ministry. (Children’s ministry requires such a high number of volunteers and that correlates with how many adults you can handle.)

Despite the complexities, serving others was designed by God and modeled by Jesus for us all to engage our faith. God gave us spiritual gifts and unique passion for the purpose of fulfilling God’s plan.

Unleashing the spiritual power of service in your church and community is truly life giving and life changing.

Are your serving opportunities clear, organized and well trained?

  • Connection for Family

One of the most powerful ways to engage the families in your church is to help spiritually develop and mature their kids and teenagers.

Not to mention, some of the best stories are those of parents who gave their lives to Christ because of their kid’s influence!

Are your next generation ministries relevant and creative? Do they consistently demonstrate that you care about the kids and students?  

Of your kids and student ministries, which one needs improvement most right now?

  • Compelling Vision

Vision is the foundation of your ministry. Now more than ever people want to know what you are about and what you believe in. They want to know where you are going.

As Carey Nieuwhof recently and aptly said, getting people to come back to church is not vision.

Encouraging people to come back to church is an important endeavor, but it’s more effective to create a vision that people want to return to and be part of. On a scale of  1 – 10, how would you rate the clarity and compelling nature of your vision?

Dan Reiland

Dan Reiland