Getting People back to In-Person Worship

Church has changed. Gathering has become a challenge more than ever. This is true in churches of all sizes and denominations. I have talked with a lot of pastors, and most of them are asking the same question. How do we get our church people back to in-person attendance? Sure, there are some people who are high risk and should not attend in-person. But what about those who are simply not attending because they have fallen out of habit? 

Before the pandemic, the focus for churches was always reaching unchurched people (and it still should be, by the way). However, churches that have re-opened are struggling to get their pre-pandemic attenders back in the building. 

Christians have found a new rhythm. Many have spent the last several months watching church online. They have the luxury of watching on Sundays or a different day that’s more convenient. In some ways, people almost feel like they have a permission to stay home and not gather as a church. Since about every church in the country now has a digital presence, people tune in and check the "I've been to church" box afterwards. Here's the reality. Not gathering isn't an option to be embraced, but a problem to be solved. Gathering is Biblical. 

"Here's the reality. Not gathering isn't an option to be embraced, but a problem to be solved. Gathering is Biblical."  Click to Tweet

Here’s are three reasons why GATHERING is vital.

  • Experience: Regardless of the digital quality and content, you cannot replicate an in-person worship experience. It is impossible. If you envision your congregation gathering around the TV or computer, lifting their hands during worship, you probably have the wrong picture. When people gather in the name of Jesus, it changes the environment. There is nothing that can replace people worshipping Jesus together. 

  • Engagement: Gathering together sets the stage for people to be engaged by worship and teaching. When people gather, they are more likely to worship and lean into the teaching. We are able to engage people with hospitality and love. And as much as we try to do that on a digital platform, nothing can replace flesh and blood engagement.  

  • Encouragement: Hebrews 10:25 reminds us of why we gather. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” The Hebrew writer was speaking to Christians who were suffering severe persecution. He was basically saying, “I know it’s risky and difficult to gather as a Christian, but you need it for encouragement and to strengthen your faith.” 

How do we get people back to in-person attendance?

  • Build a Big Day: I have learned that some people just need that one in-person experience in order to get back into the rhythm of attending church. It's like going back to a restaurant that you haven't visited for a while. You forgot how great the experience was. Create a Sunday that feels like an event. Brand it. Promote it. Make it fun. The idea is to get people back on campus. Our church did this and our attendance jumped around 100 people and has been consistent ever since. 

  • Be Safe: Make sure your gathering space is safe. Create seating six feet apart; provide hand sanitizer, etc. Creating a safe kid's space is very important. Provide temperature checks for volunteers and kids. Require hand sanitization before and after each kid experience. Asking children and volunteers to wear masks can also make people feel safe. Maybe you’re already doing this, but the real question is, how are you communicating this to your people? You cannot over-communicate your safety plan. When you fail to inform the people of your safety plan, it’s the same thing as not having one. People need to feel like you are not burying your head in the sand. They need to see proactiveness. 

  • Be Intentional: My hopes are that your digital strategy is strong. This article isn’t meant to push your focus to in-person only and neglect the digital strategy (and by they way, I hope that your Sunday morning experience isn’t your only digital strategy). You need both digital and in-person. Your digital strategy should be designed with on-ramps to in-person. Be intentional about creating digital engagements that lead to conversations about in-person attendance. Since Covid-19, our church has seen families who attended online for weeks before attending in-person. Think of your digital experience as one of your front doors. 

Getting people back in church is essential for reaching unchurched people. People serve as the engine for inviting others. Every person who gathers on Sunday knows someone who isn't a Christian. We can never lose focus on our mission as a church. And that is to win lost people. 

"Getting people back in church is essential for reaching unchurched people. We can never lose focus on our mission as a church. And that is to win lost people." Click to Tweet

Finally, let me say that I am grateful for all the hard work from pastors and teams around the country, who have kept on leading strong. Let me end with a challenge to you from Hebrews 10:25, “…encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” 


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