Covid restrictions were, well…restricting. This meant that people were not able to attend church in the same way they were used to. Some regions did not allow churches to meet at all. Others, had limits on how many could attend and rules about masks and distancing.
Churches responded amazingly well by providing services online, many of whom had never attempted this before. While this allowed people to stay at home and “attend” services, it produced mixed results. For some people, this kept them connected long enough to want to return to live services as soon as possible. For others, this gave them the sense of “attending” church without leaving their house. These people may still be watching online rather than attending. For many, it just got them out of the habit of attending. Some still watch online while others have given up on church all together.
So how do we get people back who have not yet returned? Churchanswers.com suggests that about 15% or so have no desire to return to church. How do we encourage them to come back?
Whether it is covid related, or because of other reasons, we know there are many people who have previously attended our churches but are now absent. Here are 3 steps to getting people back to church.
1. Let them Know they are Missed
Some people have not returned because they had no one from the church connect with them during the restrictions of the last year and a half. They believe that no one cares that they are not returning, and no one cared for them while they were quarantined at home.
Let these people know they are missed. In smaller churches the leadership probably has a good idea of who has not yet returned. Reach out to these people and let them know you care for them. You could encourage those who are attending to reach out to people they have not seen for a while. Leadership could send notes and make calls to people to let them know they are missed.
Do not put them down for staying away! Instead, make it about showing them they are loved by the church. Do not make them feel guilty for staying home, but extend an invitation to return.
2. Pastor, Be Visible
Some church people feel that the “church” does not care about them. I have been frustrated in the past, by the proverbial hospital patient who believes the church has not visited them, even though they had friends and their small group leader visit. Their understanding of the church is reduced to the pastor.
Well, pastor, there may be a few places where your visit may make all the difference. Your phone call may be just the ticket to invite people back. Be present on Sunday mornings to encourage those who come. Some may very well be “testing” things out, to see if they are truly welcomed back. Take time to walk through the foyer before and after the service, making the effort to genuinely connect with people. Welcome them, make them feel noticed. Sunday morning is not the time to be in a pre-service prayer with a handful of committed members, but a time to be the face of the church to those who need it.
3. Plan a Welcome Back Sunday for September
People are more likely to attend a special event than a regular service. Members are more likely to invite others to a special event. Why not plan a Welcome Back Sunday for early September (or Thanksgiving), with some special fun additions to the morning. You could invite a team of people, including some small group leaders, to plan the event. Develop and distribute some well-designed and printed invitation postcards for members to use to invite friends. Send out email and text invitations. Have enough postcards for people to invite at least 3 people. Make sure that those who have not yet returned get at least one, or more, invitations. And invite newcomers as well.
Announce it as a big event for at least four Sundays before. Give some teasers on some of the special activities planned. Put a big splash on your home page of your website and promote it on Facebook.
And pray! Have special prayer times. Pray about the event and the people being invited. Ask God to bring people back, and for all who show up to feel welcomed and encouraged.
Believers need to be part of a church. Hebrews says, “Do not stop meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10:25) Do all you can to invite people back.
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