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I don’t know what to make of the latest research released by the Barna Group this week that showed more than half of pastors expect church attendance to continue to decline, even after the COVID-19 panic.
The poll, released Monday and reported by Christian Headlines, showed a record-high 51 percent of senior pastors and executive pastors believe their church attendance will decline after the pandemic – 46 percent believing it will decline “slightly” and 5 percent decline “significantly.”
Seventeen weeks ago, when the first survey was completed, only 16 percent of pastors expected a decline.
Barna is a highly-reputable organization, so I am inclined to believe the report.
Only 17 percent of pastors say they expect attendance to grow, while 27 percent say they expect it to stay about the same.
If true, the results raise even more questions:
- Are people still scared to encounter others in a church setting, even though they are embracing large group gatherings and big box department stores?
- Have people grown tired of church games where “service” to others is confined only to passing out paper at the door, collecting money, babysitting kids and stacking chairs without any meaningful impact on their communities?
- Are people tired of simply being spectators to the point that flashy videos, loud pop music, dancing laser lights, fog machines, a seven-piece band and four to six vocalists no longer has strong enough appeal to hold their attention?
- Did the fact so many churches willingly shut their doors and remain closed until government gave them permission to reopen show people that church was truly a non-essential activity?
I found it telling that just over a quarter of small groups were meeting as usual.
Churches play a critical role in connecting people in meaningful ways to forge close, personal relationships. Take that away and force people to watch services on a computer or continue to distance themselves from others behind masks and it’s no wonder people aren’t likely to return to church.