How to Find  Hope in Returning to in-Person Worship

Source: Presbyterian Mission

The shifts in worship patterns caused by the pandemic have left many congregations facing a new dilemma: how to bring a congregation back to in-person worship?

Regardless of the levels of safety protocols, preliminary data is finding that former regular church attendees are not returning at the same rates. As a result, congregations are offering a range of completely virtual, hybrid, or in-person options designed to keep families engaged. Despite some congregations reporting increases in attendance, for the vast majority of Protestant congregations attendance remains down.

This has left many church leaders feeling like they are pastoring two different flocks: an in-person congregation and a virtual congregation. For congregations with a pre-COVID history of livestreaming the integration of online attendees into the planning of worship has been easier, while for others both the transition to livestream and the increased attendance associated with virtual church can be difficult to navigate.

One pastor recounted that prior to COVID-19 “virtual worship was just for persons who were sick and shut-in. Now, virtual church represents a valid third option for attending church.”

However, it’s important for congregations not to feel discouraged and view the current worship attendance picture in the context of larger societal trends. First, worship attendance in North America was in decline prior to the pandemic. Second, regular church attendance pre-pandemic was classified as attending at least 2-3 times a month in-person. Today, individuals may attend only once in-person but another 1-2 times online.

This has led denominational leaders to encourage clergy to view online worship as a way of keeping individuals connected in between the individual members’ decisions to attend in-person.

In this light, one of the roles of online worship is to maintain the sense of connection with people between the times they attend in person.  Churches should not view their congregation as online versus in-person but instead as both and remain open and fluid in response to changing social structures.

If your congregation is looking for congregation starters then consider asking:

1.       How many of your congregants attend more than twice per month?

2.       How many are monthly?

3.       How many are fewer than six times per year?

4.       How do we communicate most effectively with them?

5.        How do we keep them engaged?

6.       Would you even attempt to adjust your messaging or programming to reach these different subgroups?

By asking these and similar questions congregations can find healthy ways to navigate these new dynamics.

Source: Presbyterian Mission