The pandemic has forced congregations to shift into holding their services online last year, avoiding the risk of COVID-19 infection. But the church members seemed to have already accustomed to the new form of worship service that even upon the gradual return to normalcy, they just opted for it instead of returning to church physically. As a result, pastors are faced with a challenge of increasing the in-person attendance.
Nate Hogan, pastor of The Journey Church in Virginia, told the media outlet that the attendance in his church has decreased from 100 to 155 people before the pandemic to an average of only 50 individuals today.
Hogan said that this change in attendance has led churches to rethink about their discipleship practices.
"Churches must now consider how they create 'engagement.' It is the current buzzword in church leadership. It is defined as creating clear pathways for a person to take action in their discipleship journey - whether participating in sacramental worship, doing justice activities (what many call missions), exercising personal spiritual disciplines, or serving the community of believers," he shared.
Alan Meads, executive pastor of Fountain of Life Church in North Carolina, revealed that though the number of in-person worshipers in his church has decreased by approximately 56%, they are seeing some 10 to about a dozen new people attending weekly.
Despite the decline, the pastor is still optimistic about its progress.
"We are not where we were number-wise but we feel positive about where we are going," he said.
Meads observed that the people have already become comfortable with online worship services.
"People have gotten used to watching it on TV and live streaming. I think the day and time we're in - the phone is what they do. It's made it really easy to watch church service on the phone," the minister stated.
Meads expressed his belief that when people emerge from isolation after the pandemic, it will be an opportunity for the churches to engage them again as they are longing for such. Further, he said that he is praying for revival in the church when it happens.
According to Tony Morgan, founder of The Unstuck Group, most people are not returning to physical services yet due to many months of "pound[ing]" them that indoor gatherings are not safe.
He said that churches are experiencing "a decline in in-person attendance by close to 30 percent." But last year, the number of views on online services has increased more than twice.
Moreover, the founder shared that more people have already returned attending physical services at smaller to mid-sized churches in rural areas. But at larger churches in urban places, they have only seen 30 to 50 percent in attendance compared to the number they had before the pandemic.
He also said that the number of new people attending the church, as well as those getting baptized, are "much lower" and the decline is "more significant" than the issue on in-person attendance. In addition, he noted that congregations are struggling to engage people outside the church.
"I think this is an opportunity where churches are going to have to revisit not only their digital strategies but their physical gatherings. To not only re-engage the church to get them to come back but how are we going to have a strategy to engage folks that are outside of the church and outside the faith as well?" Morgan suggested.