At churches, commitment, participation, and engagement struggle to return to form on this side of the pandemic.
Attendance is improving, but significant resistance remains around participating through serving, giving, or joining a group.
Not to say every single church is seeing the same battles, but overall, engagement is lagging returning.
Lagging Church Engagement
I suspect there are a few reasons:
1. Commitment Issues: While churches were closed, engagement was mostly on hold. Giving remained solid for most churches through 2020, as generosity doesn’t require our time. We all know giving a dollar is easier than an hour, though. That’s more true now than ever before.
The pandemic increased our fear of commitment. That fear still remains.
2. New Habits: During the pandemic, we all used time differently. We sheltered in place for a season. We were forced to work from home, educate kids from home, and somewhat remain in our house, as many things were closed. As a church, we all closed our in-person services for some time. Attending church wasn’t an option for a while.
When we reopened, all of our people were de-churched, meaning they adopted new patterns of behavior and habits on Sunday. Attendance has slowly returned, but participation lags as it requires more time.
3. Different Priorities: I’ve written about this before, but to quickly reiterate, I believe many people missed several months of Sunday services and didn’t feel like they missed anything. Worse, some people gained something, like more time. Their life didn’t get worse without church, so why would they return, much less engage?
There are indeed more, but these three alone clarify our problem.
The Average Church Person Today
The last three years changed too many things in our world and our lives to expect people to reengage as they did before the pandemic.
Engagement is still as possible as before. But we need a better approach.
Let’s look at the average church person today to paint the picture of our problem.
- Church people attend less frequently. They may be in the building 1.5 times a month. Twice a month if they’re an overachiever. Again, this is our average. Some people are more committed, but the overall commitment and attendance frequency have dropped. In some cases, dramatically.
- They have other habits and priorities. As we mentioned previously, they can’t (or don’t want to) be there every week. They have kids in travel sports. They use Sunday to catch up on housework. And they bought that lake house for a reason.
- They don’t want to be locked into anything. People want to keep their options open. A church commitment automatically limits their weekend options. Who wants to be limited?
Might I suggest a new approach?
Incrementally Reengaging Our Disengaged Church
Incrementalism is what’s needed today more than ever before.
Think about it. When church attendance was more frequent, and participation was expected, convincing people to volunteer or join small groups was still challenging. Still, most church people understood what “church people” do.
Like in the past, “engagement” requires time. Some of your engagement options are bi-monthly, but many are weekly.
Put this in the context of the average attendee. In many cases, we ask them to change their behavior from attending once or twice a month to being with us in person four or more times a month. But it’s worse. If they serve on Sunday, they either miss the service or must give up three or more hours. If they join a small group, that could add an additional two or three hours a week.
Do the math. We are asking the average church person to adjust their time from two hours a month to potentially 20. Or more!
No wonder we’re struggling to get people engaged.
From two hours to 20 is too great a step.
We must create incremental steps from where they are to where they may be in time.
If we can create a series of smaller steps, the ask doesn’t feel as life-altering.
An Incremental Example
Let’s look at volunteering.
I assume you do things in your church that are annual, like a back-to-school drive, a student weekend retreat, or VBS. You probably have many of these one-off moments and events.
How do you typically get volunteers to support these events? If you’re like most churches, you ask your already engaged volunteers to put in some extra hours.
Let me give you another option. An incremental option.
What if you intentionally asked everyone in your church who is not volunteering to serve at these one-off events?
Let’s say you need ten people to check students in for a retreat. Rather than get your current student ministry volunteers to handle this need, email everyone in your church not currently serving and invite them to help. This ask only requires one hour of their time. It’s not an ongoing commitment. It’s incremental.
Now, after you get ten non-volunteers signed up, your job is to create a great volunteer experience for them. This helps them enjoy volunteering and associate positive emotion with participation.
After the event, you’ll want to follow up with an email nurture sequence, thanking these volunteers for their help, showing and telling stories of life change from the event, and, finally, asking them to consider taking a next step.
A Real Church Example
One of my church partner clients is Centerpoint Church in Tampa, Florida. These guys are doing incredible work. Their attendance is growing, but engagement is growing, too. We’ve worked hard to implement systems and strategies for both.
This summer, they created two one-night student ministry experiences. This required volunteers. Rather than asking and expecting all of their current student ministry volunteers to support all the volunteer roles at these events, they intentionally engaged non-volunteers to serve as parking lot support and check-in staff.
By the end of the summer, Centerpoint Students doubled their volunteer team.
You read that correctly. Many of the non-volunteers who stepped in to serve at this one-off event enjoyed the experience enough to sign up to serve regularly in student ministry.
And all they did was strategically ask non-volunteers to take a small, incremental step, make it worth their time, and then followed up with them strategically.
You Can Do This, Too
It really is that easy. Thinking incrementally creates so many new opportunities. From giving to serving to group participation, incremental steps are the answer for today’s average church person.
Here’s the bottom line: Incremental steps give people an incremental opportunity to move forward. People won’t take a step that’s too great.
We close the gap by ensuring every step leads to an easy, obvious, and helpful next step.
How has your church successfully reengaged its attendees post-pandemic? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below.
While you’re here, you may like this too: Why Are People Less Interested in Attending Your Church? And this: 4 Fundamentals of Effective Discipleship Pathways