Q: Our congregation has been open for in-person worship for months now, but our attendance has not been close to pre-pandemic numbers. Do you think we will ever get back to those numbers?
A: It’s too soon to tell. People have been worn down by over two years of the pandemic and are just beginning to find their feet again. Waves of infection seem to come and go at unpredictable intervals. Once people feel completely safe, you may see more folks return to in-person worship — but there is a big caveat.
People have gotten out of the habit of going to church, and some won’t come back. For others, the online experience is working well and that’s where they intend to stay. My church may have only 25 to 40 people online during the service, but a few weeks back that swelled to 250 views by the following Saturday. This pattern has been consistent throughout the pandemic. People really enjoy experiencing church when it works for them and their families.
Some advocate shutting down online worship to “force” people to attend in person, but it won’t work. All it will do is drive people to other churches that are offering online worship.
That said, many churches are experiencing a surge of new people coming in the doors of the physical building. These folks are looking for church and its community; they are wanting the kind of connection that has been missing during the past two years.
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We also need a new metric for measuring attendance. It’s in person and online together, not either/or. That’s our new world.
Christopher White is in ministry at Kedron United in Oshawa, Ont.
This column first appeared in Broadview’s September 2022 issue with the title “Will we get back to pre-pandemic attendance?”
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