Early in 2020, our world changed. COVID hit and we simply did not know what we were supposed to do. Do we trust those in leadership positions? How much do they really know about this “sudden illness?” We simply did not know.
As everything but “Essential Businesses” were shut down, everyone wondered what was next. Of course, churches were no different. They were allowed to remain open, in Texas at least. But in other states, there was huge outcry if churches were allowed to remain open. Ultimately, it became the decision of individual church leadership whether or not to close their doors.
Eventually, most churches did opt for closing their doors in the name of health safety. Most were able to broadcast their services over the internet, and people began to be comfortable with worshiping in this manner. Too comfortable perhaps.
Most churches reopened almost a year ago. So, how has attendance been since reopening? Across the nation, it appears that many worshippers are simply not going back to church.
In Maine, 164-year-old Waldoboro Methodist Church has closed its doors. In Virginia, the Mount Clifton Methodist Church had a similar fate. The church established in the 1880s has seen its numbers dwindle from over 100 pre-pandemic to only about 10 or 15 today.
In a nation in which church attendance was already sliding downward, the pandemic has turned out to be the latest throat punch to church attendance.
In Pew Research survey conducted last summer, 92% of those who regularly attend worship services said they would likely return. 7% stated they would probably just keep listening online.
In San Francisco, the historic Old St. Mary’s Cathedral survived when members rebuilt after a fire following the 1906 earthquake, but has struggled to remain open since the pandemic. Already, staff has been laid off, and needed repairs have been put off, as the congregation has dwindled.
Locally, most pastors will tell you the same thing. The number of in person worshippers is just not the same as it was before the pandemic.
Many say people have gotten too comfortable with “pajama and coffee” church attendance.
Steve Carter, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, stated, “The facts are the facts. Many people are not coming back. I have spoken with a few pastors and they are hearing the same stories.”
“I don’t feel it is safe yet to come back.”
“We are staying home and playing it safe.”
And the one that Carter says stings most of all:
“I have gotten comfortable watching church online.”
Carter says, “Yes. I take this virus seriously and want people to still come to church. What pastor doesn’t want to see the Lord’s House full of worshippers? We are making our building as safe as possible. We offer masks for those who want one. We are sanitizing. Social distancing is possible. It is not that hard to social distance when people have chosen to not come back to worship together.”
Calvary was particularly hard hit with COVID. Thirty-eight cases diagnosed and eight deaths. It is understandable that some may still be afraid to come back.
Josh Puckett of First Christian Church stated, “We have just about everyone back. We have seen almost all of our pre-COVID regular attenders back since we opened back up. We are pretty much doing church as usual. We are still offering masks, and pre-packaged communion to those who want them. Of course, it is easy to social distance in our auditorium, if desired.”
First Christian also lost some members due to COVID during the pandemic. “We did lose a few and we certainly miss them. But, we are happy to be back after missing basically five months of services.”
Puckett stated that the church does not offer online services any longer.
First Baptist Church of Brownfield has also seen a decline in some areas with some members not yet returning since reopening the church’s doors. However, new people are coming now that were not coming prior to COVID.
Wednesday nights, during the school year went back to business as usual with children and youth programs and adult Bible Study. The church even served supper during the school year on Wednesdays. Attendance was high, perhaps even higher than normal for Wednesday services. Wednesday evening activities will begin again, once school starts back.
First Baptist continues to offer online services on Sunday, which they were also doing prior to the pandemic.
Christian Life Church pastor Nick Rogers stated they have seen many new worshippers at church. “Before Summer, we were back at our regular numbers. No church can really count summer. So many people gone. But, before school was out, we were back to our expected numbers. We are thankful that Christ is still at work putting our people back together and restoring the relationship between God and man.”
Rogers said they had stopped their Facebook Live broadcast for the summer, but will start back up when school starts back. “This has nothing to do with COVID. It is just a way to reach more people with the transforming power of the Gospel story.”
Eric Horton, the pastor of The Crossing Church of God, said, “We shutdown the church for about two and half months, but we did Sunday School on Zoom and Sunday morning service on Facebook Live. Once we opened the church building backup, everyone was back plus some new folks. We did go into a second shutdown out of precaution because my wife, my youngest daughter and I all got the virus. So the church building was shutdown for about a month. But again, once the physical building was re-opened people were back!”
Carter stated, “The scripture verse I am holding on to is Proverbs 3:5 – ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’ My heart says there will always be something that will come up, some obstacle, but we are called to be overcomers. God gives us the strength, as He says in Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’ The question is, do we have the courage to begin again to be faithful to God’s call.”
Horton also reiterated Carters sentiment saying, “The Word of God tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart… don’t rely on my own understanding,” and with that we saw how God grew our congregation through this mess.”
Certainly, COVID taught us that the building is not necessarily the church, but we are also called to gather together as Christians to worship together. So, what say you? Will God’s House once again be filled with His people? Or are we in the beginning stages of a new way to worship?
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1