Question: Does God still expect us to fulfill the Great Commission during the pandemic?
From the day of Pentecost to the dread of the pandemic of 2020, God has and will continue to expect you to share the Good News and make disciples. If you look through humankind’s history, you will notice when God requests something, God equips and empowers accordingly.
The Spirit knew today would come. While COVID-19 may have caught many of us by surprise, God was not. Now, maybe more than ever, people need a loving God in whom to have hope, peace, and confidence during a time of crisis and calamity. We must learn how to connect people to Christ even when we can’t invite them to church.
Before the pandemic, church attendance was already decreasing at alarming rates. The Barna Group released a report this year entitled, State of the Church: Signs of Decline & Hope Among Key Metrics of Faith. The post highlighted the current realities of church attendance: one-third fewer Americans now attend church weekly than in 1993. The decline has been most dramatic over the last twelve years. The outlook is similar in Canada, where the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada reports that half of Canadians are either agnostic, atheist, or unreligious. Only a tenth attend religious services every week.
Has your church experienced a loss of attendance over the last decade?
With all of these nuances at play, now is not the time to give up on the demanding work of demonstrating the loving inclusion of God. Instead, consider how your congregation can increase its connection with the unchurched and dechurched.
Start with “Why?”
People aren’t going to church as much as they used to. Even usually dedicated attendees are showing up at church less often. Why?
Carey Nieuwhof isolates ten reasons church attendance has decreased:
- Greater affluence. Money gives people options.
- Higher focus on kids’ activities. A growing number of kids are playing sports.
- More travel. Most people are taking far more than the old standard of one vacation a year.
- Blended and single-parent families. When custody is shared in a family situation, ‘perfect’ attendance for a kid or teen might be 26 Sundays a year.
- Online options. With the rise of online services, social media, and ubiquitous technology, there have never been more opportunities for people to access church without actually being there.
- The cultural disappearance of guilt. Relying on guilt as a motivator no longer works.
- Self-directed spirituality. In an age when we have access to everything, more and more people are self-directing their spirituality…for better or worse.
- Failure to see a direct benefit. Even among people who say they love the church, if declining attendance is an issue, chances are it is because they don’t see a direct benefit.
- Valuing attendance over engagement. When someone merely attends church, the likelihood of showing up regularly or engaging in their faith decreases over time.
- A massive culture shift. Society is different. The era of Cultural Christianity has closed.
Pay Attention to the Particulars
Understand the different types of unchurched groups. There are two main categories – the nones and the dechurched. Christianity Today defines the two groups by the research:
- The Dechurched (Dones): People who attended church at some point in their lives but have not been active for a long time.
- The Nones: People who have no religious affiliation of any kind. Members of this group may have never attended church.
People engage or, in this case, disengage for a variety of reasons. Pay close attention to the reasons why someone has either chosen to reject the convention of attending church regularly or never started going in the first place. Before inviting someone to church, converse about their attitude, views, and possible disgruntlements. You might find they have legitimate reasons for setting up boundaries.
Assess the Actual, not the Possible
So, are you really reaching unchurched people at your church? How would you really know?
Just because a church is growing in attendance doesn’t mean it’s making new disciples. When unchurched people actually start connecting with your church, things change dramatically.
Carey Nieuwhof offers these clues that you are really making inroads with the unchurched:
- Find out from the guests themselves whether they have a church background through a survey or comment card. Your data will tell you it’s happening.
- People aren’t singing much during your service. Unchurched people may like your music, but they may not be familiar enough with it to join in.
- When unchurched people show up, not all long-time attendees will be upset, but some will be.
- Usually, if a church person is away for a month, it’s a ‘sign’ of something. Often that’s not the case with unchurched people. For them, irregular attendance is regular.
- Your neat and tidy theological and sociological categories for people will erode and collapse. You’ll realize that we’re all just people.
- As you surround yourself with unchurched people, you will see more of the pain and messiness of life.
- Unchurched people will call out hypocrisy. If you don’t deal with it, they will leave.
- Unchurched people really only have one motive for being at church: to investigate Jesus. When they do, it profoundly changes many.
What have you seen when it comes to making inroads with unchurched people?
For a printable handout of these suggestions, click here.
Far too many churches focus exclusively on the needs, wants, and preferences of their members. Too many regular churchgoers feel like it’s their right to have a church that caters exactly to their tastes and whims, and millions are paying the price for that (including unchurched people).
When your preferences keep unchurched people from the promise of Christ, it’s time to change your preferences. What changes does your collective need to make to be inviting to the unchurched?
Share your ideas below.
Terrell L McTyer works to increase missional efficacy and efficiency toward starting sustainable, world-changing churches and making disciples. His mission is to equip leaders to equip leaders. Terrell is a pastor, writer, speaker, mentor, coach, and musician that lives by the mantra, “It’s a sin to be good when God has called you to be GREAT!” His leadership experience, skills and giftings include work in music, marketing, entrepreneurship, project management and more in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. Terrell comes from the Greater Kansas City Region where he was the founding pastor of Manifestation Christian Center.
For 137 years, DCEF has offered mission-driven building and capital planning services to congregations and organizations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. Together with our investors and partners, we are Disciples helping Disciples.
As part of DCEF, New Church Ministry trains, equips, assists and multiplies emerging and affiliating congregations and leaders.