It’s the question on every pastor’s heart and mind right now. We understand why people haven’t been coming to church through the pandemic. Especially for those whose church buildings haven’t reopened yet, of course.
But once it’s over will they ever come back?
No one knows for sure.
But I’m not worried. At all.
First, because the church of Jesus has survived bigger crises than this one.
Second, because “will the congregation come back to church?” should not be the question that keeps us awake at night.
There are so many better questions we need to ask. Questions that will get us thinking more clearly and biblically about what to do next.
Here are a few of them:
1. “Have we represented Jesus well during the lockdown?”
If the answer to this question is “maybe not”, that will also give us a big hint about why some people might not be coming back.
Plus, those of us in the church are not the best ones to judge how well we’ve done this. We need to ask others. And we need to take their answers seriously – especially if it isn’t what we want to hear.
We’ve been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show who we really are over the past year or so. If we haven’t responded as well as we should, we need to fix that.
No matter how well we’ve done this (or think we’ve done it), we can always be better representatives of Jesus.
2. “Are we representing Jesus well as we come out of the lockdown?”
As restrictions start lifting, we’ll need to make a lot of choices about issues we’ve never even considered before.
From physical safety, to emotional challenges, to disagreements about those decisions.
The goal should never be to get more people in the building, or even to move ahead without causing conflict. It must always be “are we representing Jesus well as we move forward?”
3. “What have we learned – and what are we still learning?”
If all we do at the end of this is try to get back to “normal”, we will not just have missed an opportunity to learn, we will have failed Jesus. Yes, that’s strong language. But I believe it to be true.
Going through this and not learning from it is like the third servant in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). After refusing to invest what he received, the master treated him with some of the harshest words and actions in the entire Bible.
There’s a lot to learn through this. Those lessons are like great treasure. Don’t bury them, invest them in kingdom work.
4. “How can we better serve the people at home?”
Many of the folks who won’t come back to the physical building have all kinds of reasons for it. From being at-risk physically to not being ready emotionally, and more.
Don’t criticize people who aren’t ready to come back to church yet. Reach out to them. Lovingly, kindly and compassionately.
Blessing people where they are is more important than getting them to show up where we are.
5. “How well are we serving our online church members and visitors?”
We are in a new era of church attendance and involvement. People have come to know Jesus through our online services who have never been in our building. And many never will. Some because they live too far away, some due to ongoing physical risks, others who have trauma from church history, and more.
If people have chosen to participate in your online services, thank them for it and figure out how to serve them well.
- Have an online pastor available during the live stream (if you don’t have multiple staff members, train a trusted church volunteer to answer basic questions and redirect online guests to more info)
- Acknowledge them from the pulpit
- Place the camera in a spot that feels inviting
- Guide them to further online help and activities
Online church is new territory, even for churches that have been doing it for a few years. We’re all learning how to do it better. The most important aspect of online church isn’t how to make the tech better, it’s how to make it personal.
6. “How are people hurting, and what can we do to help them?”
People’s problems will not be over when the pandemic ends.
Instead, we will be heading into years of crisis and recovery that are likely to see record numbers of
- Mental breakdowns
- Church closures
- Pastoral resignations
and other issues we can’t foresee.
More than ever, the communities around us are going to need the help of healthy, missional, compassionate, worshiping, and loving churches.
Whether people come back through our church doors is not the big issue. How we honor Jesus by reaching the hurting people outside our doors is what matters.
Ministry needs to happen from the church, not just in the church.