CNLP 378: Thom Rainer on the Post-Quarantine Church, What Pastors of Small, Mid-Sized and Larger Churches are Missing and the Opportunities Ahead

Thom Rainer works with thousands of church leaders and shares his insights on attendance trends in the post-quarantine church, what pastors of small, mid-sized and large church are missing and the tremendous opportunities ahead for church leaders.

Welcome to Episode 378 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey drills down on generational shifts.

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The Post-Quarantine Church by Thom Rainer

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1. The post-quarantine church won’t be the same. 

Thom sees changes on the horizon for what he’s calling the Post-Quarantine Church. While he believes there will still be a gathered church, he said it will be different—and smaller. He believes the church will still be the church, but church life will be different. And while that may be what he says, “a hard pill to swallow,” there’s also a lot of hope for innovation.

Additionally, Thom believes that, because of the impact of this season, future pastoral care needs are going to be heightened. He says the tyranny of the urgent has been exacerbated because you’re supposed to lead an in-person church, a digital church and you’re supposed to be a referee during a heightened political season. Thom suggests evaluating how you’re spending your time. He says, “I would tell a pastor or another church leader, if they cannot clearly point to five to 10 hours a week that is used to reach people who are not followers of Christ, that you’re not using your time well.”

2. Every church—small, mid-sized and large—will change. Here’s what’s wrong and what’s right.

Small churches

What’s wrong: Predominantly smaller churches are looking at attendance as their measure of success.

Thom is seeing that if a small church had 75 gathered pre-COVID and they have 30 gathered now, they are feeling like failures. He says, “I want to tell them, “No, you’re not. Your people are still there. They’re just in some different places right now. Don’t get hung up on the number before. Look at the mission field in front of you.”

What’s right: After COVID, smaller churches started micro-churches—home churches of around 15-20. Thom believes this is a trend for the future. He mentions one particular church that is using digital church for connection to worship and smaller gatherings so people can feel safe.


What’s wrong: An obsession with facilities.

In most mid-sized church, the facilities are bigger. And therefore, they’re more expensive. For these churches, they’re not only worried about the numbers of who are there, they’re worried about paying the bills, they’re worried about the upkeep and they’re worried about the look. Most of these churches are merely interested in getting back to the way it was.

What’s right: Rethinking uses for their facilities.

But what if these churches discovered new or different uses of their facilities? Is it possible that instead of making the facilities for their church only, it could become a type of community center that their area does not have? Can you rethink, if God has given you those resources, what can you do?


What’s wrong: A focus on people in the building.

The large churches tend to the ones that became multi-site and focused on filling each of their venues. Because of this, there is a need to fill the buildings at each of their locations.

What’s right: The larger churches have led the way in helping us to understand what technology can do in order for us to see this new mission field that is out there, the digital mission field.

The larger churches tend to be more forward thinking with digital venues and have embraced technology platforms such as YouTube and Facebook Live. Some of the larger churches have also become lessons for smaller churches sharing best practices.

3. There’s an opportunity for profound evangelism

Thom sees that one of the biggest challenges of churches pre-COVID is now the biggest opportunity post-quarantine. And that is evangelism. He shares data that shows, for most churches, it took about 75 to 80 attenders to see one person reached for Christ in a year. So, if you’re in a church of 75 or 80, you might see one new believer a year. If you’re in a church of 200, you might see two or three new believers.

Thom believes this is a battle for souls. What has happened is, in the post-quarantine era, eyes have been opened to the opportunities because of the responses digitally. People have seen neighbors and strangers. People are showing up for digital services. It’s becoming a new mission field where you can reach people for Christ.

Quotes from Episode 378

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Next Episode: Lysa TerKeurst

New York Times bestselling author, Lysa TerKeurst, returns to the podcast to explore forgiveness, an issue so many leaders struggle with. Every time someone leaves, criticizes you, betrays you or otherwise harms you, how do you forgive? Should you forgive? And, how do you set boundaries that keep you and others healthy?

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 379.

CNLP 378: Thom Rainer on the Post-Quarantine Church, What Pastors of Small, Mid-Sized and Larger Churches are Missing and the Opportunities Ahead


  1. Brian Croyle on November 16, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    Carey, thanks again for another powerful leadership interview. I was particularly impacted by how Thom Rainer encouraged us all to recognize that the current pandemic actually provides a unique opportunity to share the love of Christ with those who would never have entered a church building before. And I appreciate how he made this assertion very practical by challenging pastors and other church leaders to set aside time every week (5-10 hours!) to planning, visioning, and just plain doing the work of sharing Jesus with others.
    Also, please let Thom know that he has no need to apologize for sharing about the profound impact his father had on his life. I’m a father of two sons who are preparing to launch – nothing cuts more deeply than my desire to see them walking with Jesus. Thom’s willingness to share about his father is a powerful reminder of the opportunity and responsibility I have to speak love and encouragement into my own sons’ lives. Thank you, Thom (and Carey), for that gift!

  2. tysomacao on November 16, 2020 at 1:33 am

    Hopefully, this episode has helped you lead like never before.
    Yes, That’s my goal !

  3. Leigh Piatt-Gonzalez on November 12, 2020 at 11:18 am

    This entire episode was a major confirmation for my husband and I. We were talking about using our building as a resource center, and the reality of the church consisting of large gatherings and many small gatherings. We are in the US but we keep pointing to how difficult its become to freely minister in our nation-this is the way it is in so many nations. My church is at 80% of our original attendance, we’ve been having in-person church services since the end of May . We anticipated behaviors and responses amongst our people-depression, fear, anxiety and hopelessness-this is why we decided not to wait. My church has two locations, one is in Jersey City NJ a major city that has experienced some of the most severe shutdowns. Its been so hard, but at least we todays episode reaffirms that we are on the right track. We have been constantly innovating, and are in the process of planning a pastors retreat to plan through the next season. It is exhausting, I know a lot of pastors wont make it. My husband and I are 57 and 60 years old. Our goal is just to steer the church through these difficult waters.

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