Though COVID will “always be with us,” the pandemic seems largely over. It has been over for a while, the politicians and news outlets just needed another story to fill their news cycles. What that means for churches is where you presently are; is where you are going to be. No one else is coming back. The folks who are gone are gone. The new folks are staying. You now have a new baseline. And most churches are running about 50% of the live attendance they had in 2018. And most churches were in decline well before 2018.
Offsetting this harsh reality has been the emergence of on-line worship. We all got better at it during the pandemic shut downs and it is with us to say. A parishioner told me recently, “You all made pajama church pretty easy to attend.” Indeed we did and some people permanently joined. In many congregations, on-line worship is now 50% of their worship total.
In the case of Christ Church, we ran about 2,500 each week in 2018 with almost 90% of that total being live. So far in 2022 (using the same metrics), we are running about 3,500 with just under 50% of that total being live.
Though our live attendance is trending up, it has not yet recovered to our 2018 level. Despite this, we are about 1,000 people a week larger in terms of total attendance. This means we are a very different church than we were just four years ago. We are now a hybrid.
If you are like us, your congregation is probably staffed and budgeted exactly like you were pre-pandemic. This means that your on-line congregation is probably vastly underfunded. Vastly. But where do you get the funds to turn the internet firehouse into a warm faith community? Glad you asked.
I would recommend three simple action steps to propel your church into a more viable future.
1. Assess. How have you changed since the pandemic? What is recovering? What is failing to recover? What things are consuming significant resources but are now producing little or no kingdom impact? What things are surging despite little funding?
2. Close. Shut down everything that is no longer effective as soon a possible. Don’t phase it out, shut it down. For example, most churches are offering too many worship services. You are better off to offer one well attended service, than two poorly attended ones. You can always go back to two if you get too large.
3. Reallocate. Strategically shift financial and human resources from ineffective and declining ministries to effective and growing ministries.
During the pandemic, churches needed navigators but now we need bold and strategic leaders. These leaders must have the skills to assess, the courage to close and the wisdom to reallocate.
This pandemic will either be the worst or the best thing that ever happened to the Western church.
That is being determined right now.
Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.