To be clear, church leaders and members should not seek to lower worship attendance.
After all, that would result in fewer people worshipping together and listening to biblical preaching.
But not all losses in attendance are bad. We have heard from church leaders several ways the decline can be healthy for the church. Here are the five most common reasons:
1. Pruning of negative influences. One pastor described the impact of COVID as “pandemic-induced church discipline.” In a somewhat humorous way, the pastor was repeating what we have heard from many church leaders. A number of the divisive and angry members have left the church. Though their departure led to a decline in attendance, it also led to greater joy and unity in the church.
2. An opportunity to re-focus. Several of us have referred to the post-quarantine era as a “blank slate.” During the pause of the quarantine, church leaders were able to think about what matters in their churches. For most of them, it meant focusing more on the most critical issues while eliminating some of the less-than-meaningful activities.
3. Clarity on the core membership. The pandemic has given many church leaders a clear picture of who the healthy and contributing church members are. They now know more than ever those upon whom they can depend. They know who their “go-to” members are.
4. A move toward simplicity. The simple church is being discovered or re-discovered. Many pastors and other church leaders have dared to eliminate many church activities. And, in doing so, they have led their churches to develop a clear and robust process of discipleship.
5. Returning evangelism to its rightful priority. Jesus’ last words in his earthly ministry were commands to be witnesses and to make disciples. Evangelism mattered to Jesus. It should matter to our churches. Unfortunately, many churches have little to no emphasis on reaching their communities with the gospel. The pandemic has given church leaders a fresh start on leading their churches to Great Commission obedience.
At the risk of redundancy, let us repeat it. We should not celebrate worship attendance declines. There is too much at stake for fewer people to join the gathered church. But the pandemic has changed things. Among those changes is a decline in attendance in most churches. At this point, the median reduction is about 20 percent.
Now, we have the opportunity to build on a new and more robust foundation. In God’s power, we have the opportunity to lead our churches to be stronger and healthier than ever.