Since we began to move out of lockdown I’ve run a few little twitter polls to try and get more of a feel for what is happening in terms of church life. These are quite small surveys and to some extent we shouldn’t treat them as scientific polls. However, they do give a feel for what is happening in the evangelical world, primarily here in the UK. My aim in sharing the results is to encourage you to think about what your own experience is, how that compares to others and what you might ant to do in response.
This time I began by asking about church attendance post omicron in relation to 2019 church attendance.
As you can see, the majority of people I’m in touch with are still saying that attendance is lower than in 2019. It’s worth noting that at least one person commented that this was variable, prior to Omicron numbers last year had been higher than before the pandemic but obviously the recent wave has encouraged some to stay home again. Some churches have seen growth in attendance and around a third are at the same level.
I then asked specifically about the impact on previous attendees. How many are still not back at in person church:
Only a small proportion are still saying that the majority or even a sizable minority of previous attendees have not made it back with 42% saying that 90% or more are now back on a Sunday. This fits with my belief that most people who are intending to return to church have already returned. As I’ve said before, we therefore need to pay attention to what this means for those who have not returned to in person church. My gut feeling is that they are less and less likely to be back in person and that their reasons for staying away run deeper than the pandemic. This does not mean they are unbeleivers or closed to the Gospel (though some may be). I don;t think we can just write people off and forget about them. We follow the good shepherd who seeks the one in a hundred. However, we cannot just assume they’ll turn up one day.
Some churches are seeing new attendees. In fact I get the impression that a lot are. Even if overall attendance is down, the mix has changed. Where is that coming from?
Now, note that I asked where these are predominantly coming from. So whilst new attendance is not primarily from completely new converts, this does not mean they are completely absent. However, the picture does show that overwhelmingly new people are coming through transfer growth. I think we are seeing lot of re-configuration happening. People are joining you because they were unhappy with a previous church, perhaps because of its pandemic response or perhaps because they saw the pandemic as a prompt to re-evaluate. I do know of some people who during lockdown realised that they spent time travelling to non-local churches and have started searching within walking distance. Some will sadly have seen their church close during lockdown.
Pastors therefore have a lot of work to do on two fronts. First, they need to help people process grief as the end of a season has been painful. Secondly they need to think about relationships with other churches.
Notice that we are also seeing people who have started to re-connect with the Gospel and church as a result of the pandemic and we need to think about how we care for them too.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t new believers or that lockdown evangelism failed but it does mean that if we put our hopes in a big pandemic revival, they were misplaced. It remains my view that there is a lot of long term work still to do with those who did connect with church and the Gospel in lockdown online. Is your church talking about how to do this?
On that note, I was interested to know whether churches were continuing to provide some form of online content. A sigificant majority are continuing to live stream.
I also asked about midweek ministries too and got the following answers.
In some respects, this is perhaps the lowest cost option. You just switch on the camera. However, i do wonder how helpful this is. Does it send a message to people that church functions at their convenience? They can just switch on and watch/listen as they desire. Are those watching a live stream fully engaged or is it on in the background?
I do think we need to continue to provide for those who can’t get to in person meetings for whatever reason but I’m not sure that a live stream of the service is best. Would it be better to provide dedicated content? Is the Zoom option better because at least it is saying “this is something you come and participate in?
It does seem to me that churches have tried to get back to what they considered “normal” as quickly as possible. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. I continue to reflect on how we have seen the fringe decimated leaving questions about our outreach strategies and the level of exhaustion that volunteers expressed. I hope we are not missing an opportunity here to think carefully about the life of the church and its witness.
On that note, I also asked about whether churches had made changes post lockdown in response to the new context.
Most are indicating small adjustments with a few suggesting they’ve made radical changes. It would be good to hear more about the changes people are observing, experiencing and implementing. Please feel to join in the comments below.
Please also join in the discussion on Facebook and Twitter as we seek to help each other respond to the new circumstances we find ourselves in.