As churches around the world begin to debate whether or not to reopen, one question many people are asking is, “will people return to church after COVID-19?”
I wish the answer was as simple as yes or no but it’s more complicated than that. You see the coronavirus has changed everything and it’s safe to say that we’re all experiencing something we’ve never experienced before.
That been in said, I think the right question every church leader should be asking is, “ how do we adapt to the new way of worship?”
You see the most successful churches post COVID-19 are those that will take the new situation as a challenge and an opportunity to innovate.
In this article, I will show you exactly what your church needs to do in order to be successful on the other side of COVID-19.
One thing we know for sure is that the church will look different on the other side.
Things will never be the same and if you find your church doing things exactly as before, then we have a problem, and it shows that we did not learn anything from this experience.
What we know about the Church During COVID-19
Before planning for post-COVID 19, we need to look at what the church is going through during the pandemic. The goal is to take note of what's working well and what’s not.
We will look at five areas including:
- Church attendance
- Advantages of online church
- Church giving
- Church safety
Church attendance during the pandemic
When it comes to church attendance during COVID-19, some churches have reported an increase while others have seen a decrease.
In a recent survey by the Center for Bible Engagement, about 62 percent of the pastors surveyed indicated that they saw an increase in online church attendance than they usually get in regular church.
The results show that unlike a physical church where people attend due to proximity, the online church opens up new ways to attract new attendees from anywhere in the world.
Remember all the young people who’ve left the church? well, they did not leave God and so they are attending church with you online.
People enjoy the freedom to attend church anytime anywhere.
Even though going to church is like second nature to a lot of us, many people have expressed the joy of not having to wake up early, getting dressed up, and driving long distances to church.
One person said, “ it does fill like a day of rest for sure.”
The digital church has broken down the barrier of distance and given a lot of Christians the power to attend any church service they want.
This past Sabbath, I had the privilege to attend Sabbath school lead by a long-time member of my church who moved out of state three years ago.
In the offline church, a guest speaker or presenter would have to travel long distances to come and present. The internet has changed that and people are really enjoying the ability to worship with people from any part of the world.
What people are saying about church online
We scrapped the internet to see what people think about church online and here is what we found.
Question: Do you enjoy online church?
There are so many people attending church online that normally wouldn’t due to various reasons including; physical limitations, work-related, and so on.
Church giving during COVID-19
A recent survey by the State of the Plate shows that 65% of churches have seen a decline in giving due to COVID-19.
While many churches have seen a reduction is a tithe and offering, the reasons are understandable.
Most people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and they are trying to save every dollar for essentials.
Another reason could be that most older churches do not have an online giving solution as most of their members use cash or checks for tithe and offering.
If your church did not implement any online giving before the pandemic, it is likely that you’ve seen a major decrease in giving.
The great thing about online giving is that it’s easy and fast to set up and you’ be up and running in no time. Here are a few platforms you can use.
People Miss the Fellowship
When we started talking to churches about digital evangelism ( before the COVID-19), most churches showed concerns about the lack of physical fellowship and connection online.
They were worried that the digital church experience takes away the fellowship that makes a church and it would not work for most members who need those connections every week.
Those concerns are now a reality and people are really missing their church families. However, most people have adapted to the new normal and are becoming comfortable with their online connections and fellowship.
People feel safer worshiping from home
It’s unfortunate that we have to talk about church and unsafe in the same sentence, but that’s the reality.
In the past few years, we’ve all witnessed the brutal shootings in churches and many people have lost their lives while worshiping God in the most sacred places.
The church was one place where no guns were allowed but times have changed and now you hardly see a church without armed security.
You could say that armed security should make people feel safer while they worship, but the opposite is true. Many people choose to worship from home than go to church.
Even though some people miss church, it is also true that others are really enjoying worshiping in the safety of their homes.
Now that we know and understand the current state of the church, lets now take care of the elephant in the room.
Will People Return to Church After COVID-19?
The answer to the question, “will people return?” is not easy, but based on the information above we can predict or at least have an idea of whether people will return or not.
Instead of asking whether people will return to church after COVID-19, we should be asking if the church is ready for what's to come.
One thing for sure is that the church has changed and it may never look the same anymore. Post-COVID-19 will not be about filling up those peels but about reaching and connecting with people wherever they are.
In one of my favorite books Every Believer a Disciple!: Joining in God’s Mission, David E. Bjork writes, “It is surprising to see the ease with which we have transformed that command to “Go and make” into “Come and watch!”
The truth is that if your evangelism strategy is only based on bringing people into the church building, then you will continue to see a decline in church attendance.
So, will people return to church after the pandemic?
We do not know for sure how many people will return to church after the COVID-19. However, we know that unless the church is ready for what’s to come, we will lose more and more people.
What every church needs to do to get ready
Most of the church leaders we talked to, cannot wait to open the church doors for worship. But the one thing every church leadership should be excited about is the seat down.
Every church needs to have serious conversations about the way forward. We all should be talking about how to never be non-essential ever again.
It is true that the church was caught by surprise and things changed overnight. We pride ourselves in preparing for Jesus’ second coming but we were found in the same position the nine virgins were. Un-prepared and non-essential.
If this hurts, then I am doing my job and I hope we can change the way we think and do business.
Number 1 - Take into account what we already know
In order to get ready for what’s coming, we must first consider the things the church was going through before and during the pandemic.
Here are a few things we already know.
Church Before The Pandemic
- Over 23% of Americans claimed no affiliation to organized religion. This group of young people called themselves religious nones.
- 57% of young people who grew up in church no longer attended church.
- Only 42% of adults attended church on a regular basis.
- Most people in the church thought that the church was not meeting their needs.
Church During The Pandemic
- People are enjoying the freedom of on-demand worship.
- For the first time, most churches are able to reach more people beyond their physical radius.
- Some churches have seen an increase in online church attendance than the regular church.
- People feel safer worshiping at home.
Number 2 - Ask Your Members.
I know that it was extremely hard for most churches to transition to an online church. In fact, some churches are still trying to figure it out.
The truth is that change is hard and if you think transitioning back to normal won't be as hard, then think again.
This is the time to start planning on reopening the church and since we want to know if our members will return after COVID-19, maybe it’s time we asked them.
The success of your church on the other side of the pandemic depends on how well you prepare, and in order to prepare, you need to know what your members think.
Here is a list of questions you can ASK your church members.
- What’s working well for you and your family during the lockdown?
- What do you like about online church service?
- What didn't you like about the online church?
- Have you attended a different church’s online service during the pandemic? If so, what—if anything—did you enjoy about that church that is different from our church?
- Would you like us to continue our online church service after the COVID-19?
- Will you be returning to church when we reopen?
- What do you miss the most about the regular church?
It is no doubt that the church on the other side of COVID-19 is different. Some churches will experience lower attendance numbers while others will see an increase.
I don’t know how you measure success as a church. Is it by how many people you bring into the church or by your reach?
How many people were you able to reach during the COVID-19 lockdown? did you have any new visitors to your online service? how long did they stay and do you know who they are?
These are questions you must be asking yourselves. You see technology has advanced so much that you can find out exactly how many people attend your church service every week. If you are interested in knowing who they are? you can also do that easily.
For every ten people who cannot wait to go back to regular church, there are five who are enjoying the online church experience.
What does a successful church look like post-COVID?
A successful church post-COVID-19 is one that will embrace both offline and online church. That means you should not cancel your zoom membership plans instead find ways to utilize your plan to the max.
Here are some ideas for you to utilize zoom during and after COVID-19.
In conclusion, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is that every church needs an online solution. It is no longer acceptable to have a simple website that talks about your church and mainly used for bulletin distribution.
Every church needs a digital evangelism and outreach machine that converts visitors to members and believers. If you are still not sure what a digital ministry can do for your church, we wrote an article for you and you can read it here.
I remember sounding the alarm before the pandemic for churches to go digital and I am sounding another alarm for you to prepare. The best thing is that you can start right now without much effort.