“Will The Congregation Come Back?” Should Not Be Our Biggest Concern (6 Better Questions)

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.

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:

(You can also check out my follow-up article, 7 Reasons Some People Might Not Come Back To Church.)

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. Click To Tweet

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. Click To Tweet

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
The most important aspect of online church isn't how to make the tech better, it's how to make it personal. Click To Tweet

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

  • Divorces
  • Bankruptcies
  • Evictions
  • Homelessness
  • Mental breakdowns
  • Joblessness
  • 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. Click To Tweet

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.

(Photo by Kyle Glenn | Unsplash)

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13 thoughts on ““Will The Congregation Come Back?” Should Not Be Our Biggest Concern (6 Better Questions)”

  1. I feel you are making great sense and you are discussing a huge problem which has been there all the time, but now came out in the covid lockdown time.
    I agree with most of you points 100%.
    However, if you really want to help, you would not make it copyright. Let go and let GOD.

  2. Clarissa Ruffin

    I think the church has had an eye opening experience. Many have step out on faith. Many have shown much compassion in this pandemic. I have seen a great increase in outreach Ministry. Many have represented the Kingdom during this pandemic. Of course there are others that continued to use this time for gain but I think the Good outweighed the bad. This time has stirred the gifts within the church. Many Pastors have seen members step up to the plow. I applaud the church as a whole. I believe our appreciation for the church building will never be taken for granted again. I see the fruit in operation. I see the hunger and thirst for righteousness. When and if we do go back in full time they will offer more than one option for having services and connecting with souls.

  3. I know that many who read your blog live in places where church related activities have been greatly reduced or completely shut down over the past year. Here in Missouri, most of our churches have been open on Sundays since May 2020. Over the past year, many have started online services featuring their Worship Service. Some have even done daily or weekly devotionals, along with weekly Sunday School lessons online. And depending on the church, there have been varying levels of interest and success with those online efforts.
    Just this month, many churches are re-establishing their children’s ministry, Sunday School ministry, and evening services. And most church which are doing this are simply looking to bring things back which existed before the COVID shut downs, essentially trying to make the church the way it was. They want the church to return to pre-COVID status, and they want the people to return to the way it was.
    However, I think the break has created an unprecedented opportunity for churches and their leadership to do some real soul searching to truly evaluate and assess their previous effectiveness so they can strategically plan to reopen things with a greater effectiveness in mind. I appreciate your thoughts because each of your 6 questions will help a church leader get to the question of how to be more effective for the glory of Christ and the building up of His church.
    Blessing upon you!

  4. I think that if you’re asking the question, “Will they come back,” from a place of numerical growth strategy that’s not a helpful trajectory. But I also think that a dearth of people are languishing in isolation and I’m very committed to shepherding them gently back into the community that they desperately need–a community that this year has shown cannot be replicated by virtual opportunities. I think it will prove to be a mistake if we fail to take sincere, sensitive, and safe steps toward regathering people who have been scattered.

    At the same time, I agree wholeheartedly with all of your six questions. I think we can do them and rebuild a healthy in-person community of believers. It need not be mutually exclusive.

  5. Christina Degazio

    Thank you so much for reminding us that “the church” belongs to God – and our job is not to worry about numbers or when we will open or when our programs will be back and running. The best thing we can do is be faithful to a God who proves Himself faithful to us time and time again and reflect His love and His character to the world around us!

  6. Thank you for these thoughtful questions. They help to refocus. We can spend a lot of t I’ll me looking at we lost. I believe now is the time God saying to us “the church” can move forward. “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible”. Matt 19:26

  7. Douglas A Hickman

    One of the more forceful lessons to be learned in this experience is that “Church” is a verb. It is NOT a building, it is not a place. We “Church” when we follow Christ in community. It may well be time we shed our previous model of theology-by-donation entirely as well.
    Perhaps this is a watershed moment for a shift in organized theology, and how churches serve communities. Perhaps technology will be embraced – to the of development of virtual churches as an addition, and necessary part of Church – and a shift from “Church on Sunday” model to “Church as an ap.” model. For established theologies and academia this may look like a step backwards – back to “Circuit Preachers” times. But it is also a big step away from the highest donor driving churches, and largest churches driving theology too. Some consideration must also be given to the possible end of theology as a career within and becoming more aligned with St. Paul’s “Tent maker” model. This will also require a (needed now) restructuring of funding Seminary study. – perhaps being funded by denomination and/or educational institution instead of each individual theologian. After all, we all already will be paying on theological student loans that are forgiven at the time of the theologians death.

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