One in every three churchgoers has not returned to in-person worship services since the pandemic. Tricia K. Brown offers ideas for ministering to members of your congregation who have not yet returned to in-person worship.
According to Barna research, about one in every three churchgoers has not returned to in-person worship services since COVID-19 shutdowns ended. With that in mind, here are a few ways to minister to members of your congregation who have not returned.
Find out why.
Contact missing members and have a personal conversation about what is taking place in their lives. This should not be an attempt to guilt them into coming back to church. Try to discern if there are lifestyle factors or concerns that are inhibiting them. Health changes, family care, and job situations may have affected their ability to attend Sunday morning services.
Try to determine how the church can support and encourage them. You may be able to help them attend more often or minister to them where they are. If they have moved to another church or are uninterested in returning, pray with them, make note of their decision, and respect their wishes regarding further communication.
Continue digital care.
As churches return to pre-COVID-19 routines, it may be tempting to pull back on the digital care provided during the shutdown. Don’t neglect your online ministry.
The world has changed dramatically in the past two years, and the digital church is not going away. Continue posting online worship services and hosting Bible study groups via Zoom. Keep doing whatever you did during the shutdown to keep your congregation fed and engaged. If you haven’t already, assign a volunteer or staff member to lead this ministry.
Add a personal touch.
Communication is a meaningful way to be in ministry even when you can’t be together. Keep in contact with people who have chosen not to return but still express interest in your church. Treat them with as much respect and care as you do your in-person congregants.
Make it a priority to do the following things:
- Inform them of church activities.
- Check on them often.
- Invite them to attend an online Bible study group/event.
- Provide study materials online or through the mail.
- Send devotional texts.
- Provide them with homebound services such as communion/eucharist.
- Encourage fellowship through Facebook groups or chat rooms.
- Institute a buddy program.
If you are able to start a buddy program, ask on-site volunteers to partner with a willing off-site participant. Encourage the two to communicate often, pray for one another, and meet in person if willing.
Encourage unity and engagement.
Find ways to help your on-site and off-site worshippers become unified and engaged.
- Introduce off-site and on-site members to one another. Ask volunteers to film a short introduction of themselves. Incorporate the videos into a montage that you can share on-screen at the beginning of your Sunday morning service.
- Try to think of new ways to include off-site congregants in worship. Ask someone to lead worship via a Facebook Live feed. Prerecord a volunteer reading announcements or playing worship music from their home.
- Provide opportunities to participate in ministry and leadership. Ask an off-site member to lead a Zoom group or online Bible study or monitor a chatroom. Recruit off-site volunteers to participate in or head up prayer and card ministries.
- Make online giving easy. True connection involves giving back. Invite your off-site audience to be more than partakers. Encourage them to partner with you in the ministries of your church.
- Educate all members to understand the church as a hybrid family.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed our world and our churches. Churches are no longer composed solely of in-person congregants. Even though these people aren’t in your pews, your digital audience needs your love and attention.
There are online worshippers who may never grace the doors of your church. Let them sample the good things your church has to offer. Maybe, one day, they will join you at the table.
This article was originally published on ResourceUMC.org. Reprinted with permission.
- One Invitation Away from Returning by Rebekah Simon-Peter
- Minding the Church’s Doors by Nancy Taylor
- “Forging a New Path,” a Leading Ideas Talks podcast episode featuring Rebekah Simon-Peter