The 30-40-30 Hypothesis for the Post-quarantine Church

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Are we beginning to see an attendance pattern among churches in North America?

During our weekly Church Answers team meeting, Chuck Carter raised this question. He coaches several pastors for Church Answers. Other team members chimed in, particularly those who work with church leaders every week.

There was a sense of unanimity among us that he was seeing what we all were seeing. For now, we are calling it the 30-40-30 hypothesis. Let’s look at some of the salient points we affirmed. 

  • Compared to pre-COVID numbers, about 30% of church worship attendance has disappeared. Of course, this number represents an observation more than detailed research. Also, there are always outlier churches. For example, one megachurch pastor told me that his worship attendance is only at 50% at this point. Another pastor said to me that his attendance is 110% above pre-COVID numbers. But, overall, we agreed that 30% is a good representative number for those who have not returned to worship services.
  • About 40% of the attendees that have returned are only marginally committed. They may show up once a month, twice a month at most. They are attendees only. They tend not to be involved in small groups, nor do they get involved in ministries in the church. Many church leaders suspect they do not significantly support the church financially, but most of these leaders admitted they do not have access to individual giving records.
  • Another 30% of the pre-COVID number have returned, and they are significantly committed to the church. They are involved in ministry and volunteer positions. They fill gaps where others have dropped out. They attend worship services with almost weekly faithfulness. And they are likely committed financial supporters of the church.
  • In summary, the 30-40-30 number represents the dropouts (30%), the marginally committed (40%), and the committed (30%).

Church Answers was planning to move forward with a more statistically reliable survey of churches regarding attendance patterns, but we are postponing it for now. We want to see how long this current COVID spike lasts. It is premature to determine how churches are doing when we have no idea what a new normal may look like.

We would love to hear from you regarding attendance patterns at your church. Is your church experiencing something like the 30-40-30 attendance pattern? If your attendance patterns are significantly different, let us know what they are.

Also, we see a slower recovery among larger churches, particularly churches with an attendance above 500. And megachurches (average weekly worship attendance of 2,000 and above) are recovering the slowest. Is this pattern true for those of you who serve larger churches?

These are challenging times for everyone, particularly church leaders. Please know that our team at Church Answers prays for you regularly. We are here to pray for your specific prayer requests and help you in any way we can.

Above all, thank you for your ministry in serving others in the name of our Lord. Despite the challenges you face, be assured that your work is not in vain.

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Thom Rainer
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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