7 Ways To Reach The People Who Aren’t Coming Back To Church

Here’s the challenge for every church right now. Offer the best online church service you can, while making the in-person experience so compelling that everyone who watches will be excited about showing up in person.

According to Newton’s first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.”

For many people, the motion of attending church was interrupted by the outside force of the pandemic shutdowns. Now, the inertia of staying at home is keeping many at home, even as churches start opening our doors for in-person services again.

Some of them may need the nudge of another “outside force” to get them attending again. But what might that motivation be? That’s where it gets perilous.

Here are seven ways to encourage and motivate people, not just to attend church again, but toward greater involvement and engagement.

1. Don’t guilt them, encourage them

Guilt doesn’t motivate, it demotivates. It discourages. It paralyzes.

Instead, people need to be motivated by encouragement, by hope and by compassionate understanding.

There are two ways we tend to guilt people that we need to avoid:

  • Don’t guilt them for not coming
  • Don’t guilt them for watching online

There’s nothing wrong with people watching church online. If there was, we wouldn’t give them the option.

Online church was a lifeline for most of us during the pandemic. In the congregation I serve there were people who made a commitment to Jesus and become a part of our church family for months before ever entering the church building.

It’s completely counterproductive (not to mention utterly hypocritical) to guilt people for watching your live stream service. Instead, be grateful that they took the time and effort to watch your service instead of doing any of the wide variety of other options (church and not-church) that are available.

2. Offer them an experience they can’t get online

Why should someone come to your church building instead of watching it online? If the answer to that question isn’t compelling and obvious, it needs to be. Not just to you, but to those who attend.

No one should ever walk out of an in-person church service and wonder “Why did I come today? I could have gotten all of that online.”

Here’s the challenge for every church right now. Offer the best online church service you can, while making the in-person experience so compelling that everyone who watches will want to show up in person.

So what can in-person worship offer that online just can’t?

  • The personal touch
  • Times of fellowship and conversation
  • Deepening relationships
  • The feeling of in-room worship as we sing together
  • Participating together in the Lord’s table

And so much more.

Did you notice anything in common about the items on that list? What makes the in-person church experience special is mostly due to what happens off stage and off camera.

We need to get better at the relational aspects of church in the coming years to make sure our in-person church experience is everything it can be.

Aspects of these can be done online, but even the best live stream service can only hint what’s happening off stage.

3. Reach out to them

Do you miss someone? Let them know.

Not in a guilt-inducing way (see points 1 and 2 again) but in a “we really miss you!” way.

Several weeks ago, I encouraged our in-person attenders to look around and ask themselves “who haven’t I seen in a while?”, then call them and say “hi!”

Since then I’ve heard several stories about how those calls and texts from church friends brought hope and healing to absent church members.

4. Apologize, if needed

No church did everything right during the pandemic. We all made decisions that we would change and we missed people we should have remembered. In most cases, we need to file those oversights under the heading of “we did what we could with what we knew.”

But in some cases, if something was done really badly or we hurt someone, an apology may be in order. I’ve had to do it before. And in every case it helped heal a wound and mend a relationship.

5. Help them draw closer to Jesus right where they are

Getting people to return to the church building is eternally less important than helping them stay close to Jesus.

When we’re trying to get people to come to church, it can feel like a sales job – especially if you’re the pastor. But if we’re helping them get closer to Jesus, whether-or-not they show up in person, they’re more likely to know we’re serving them, not ourselves.

For more on this, check out my recent article, “Will The Congregation Come Back?” Should Not Be Our Biggest Concern (6 Better Questions).

6. Give them an opportunity to serve others

One of the best ways to open a doorway for people to feel needed is to ask them for their help.

Instead of trying to get them to show up on Sunday, ask them if they’d like to show up for your next community service event. There’s nothing like working together helping others to make someone feel like a valued part of the team.

7. Pray for them

Start with prayer.

End with prayer.

And make prayer an essential ingredient every step of the way.

While it’s important for us to do everything we can, it’s vital that we recognize that our abilities are never enough.

When we pray, God does what we can’t. He’s with them when we’re not. He never says or does the wrong thing.

Besides, a praying church is the only kind of church that’s worth going back to.

(Photo by Kenrick Mills | Unsplash)


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