In-Person Attendance v. Online Attendance and The Emerging Trap Of Doing Nothing Well

As you know, these are some of the most complex times in church leadership in decades.

As churches reopen their in-person gatherings, there’s one particular trap to watch out for.

The initial indications for churches regathering in person are that in-person church attendance is lower than anyone expected. Most leaders are seeing only 20-70% of their former in-person attendance. A few outliers have seen a full return, which is awesome. Just don’t miss this: the current average is 36%.

And of course, some churches have reopened but then had an outbreak and had to close down again.

While this could very much be a temporary trend, I’d think twice before assuming everyone’s coming back the way they were before.

In the early days of the pandemic, the hope was first Sunday back would be like Chris Farley’s famous entrance on Letterman. That hope has given way to the tough reality of social distancing, the current inability for many to offer full kids ministry, at-risk adults understandably staying away until vaccine is available, and the emerging trend of more people seemingly open to digital church or non-attendance rather than in-person attendance.

Which leads to a very real trap that’s emerging for church leaders. Most churches will do both in-person and online services into the future.

The trap: what if you end up doing neither well?

Regardless of your church size, that’s a very real trap for at least three reasons.

1. COVID Probably Accelerated Trends That Have Been Happening for Decades

While the full story of what happened to church post-COVID has yet to play out, I suspect that the disruption has accelerated at least two trends we’ve seen for decades.

First,  declining church attendance has been intensifying for decades.

Second, even Christians who attend church are attending less often.

So what does that mean?

Maybe the low numbers of in-person worship attendance isn’t just COVID related. Perhaps it’s an acceleration of the non-attendance trends the church has seen for decades.

I certainly hope I’m wrong. In fact, I’d be delighted to be wrong.

I also realize I’m stepping on sensitive ground for church leaders who are already tired. But wise leaders don’t let their fatigue make decisions for them.

Whenever I suggest people won’t rush back to church, I get a string of comments and messages from church leaders who deny it, are angry about it, or argue incessantly that online church isn’t going to work in the future.

I understand.

But denial isn’t a strategy. Or at least not a good one. Neither is anger.

And if this is, in fact, an intensification of trends that have been happening for decades, perhaps it’s time for a new strategy.

I outline some broad strokes for the future church in this post where I outline 7 new disruptive church trends.

Just know this (as hard as it is to admit): adopting a ‘they’re all going to come back just like before” mindset can land you right in the middle of the trap.

2. You’re Currently Staffed for Where You’re Seeing Low Returns

If it’s actually the case that in-person attendance numbers will continue to be lower even after COVID is completely a non-issue (which could be months or years from now), then that creates a challenge.

Namely, that many churches have the highest level of staff and budgets invested where they’re seeing the lowest returns.

Sure, in-person worship and gathering isn’t going away. As long as there are people, people will want to gather in person.

But in the same way almost every CEO is rethinking how much office space they really need in light of how well their teams are working from home, church leaders may want to rethink why they’re spending the vast majority of their time, budget and human resources at in-person services that very few people attend.

If this is indeed an acceleration of in-person attendance trends that have been in play for decades, you could easily end up behaving like the CD salesperson in the age of Spotify or like a mall owner in the age of Amazon.

If your mission is to fill buildings, then keep going with your current strategy. But if your mission is to reach people, it might be time to rethink things.

3. You’re Deeply Understaffed for Where You’re Seeing the Highest Potential

The vast majority of churches pivoted to online quickly in March 2020 and saw a large attendance spike over previous levels.

After leaders figured out how to count more accurately and the novelty of online church sagged for leaders and congregants, most churches then saw a drop off in from their initial online attendance numbers (I share reasons as to why that happened here).

Consequently, when the option of resuming in-person worship again became available, many leaders put all their effort back into that.

A few notes on this.

First, it’s probably wise to see where you’re currently getting the highest reach. My guess is that for many re-opened churches, the higher reach remains online.

Second, even if your in-person numbers are higher than your live-stream audience, take the time to add in the number of on-demand views you get for a message or service within the first week a service goes live. My guess is it at least matches your in-person attendance, and in most cases will be higher.

What’s strange is that experiencing higher online attendance than in-person attendance has been true for many churches long before COVID hit. It’s just that nobody was really paying attention to the trend or knew what to do with it if they noticed it.

Third, despite the fact that they’re reaching fewer people than ever in-person, many church leaders are pivoting back to putting 90-95% of their time and attention into in-person services.

To make it even more complicated, the necessary requirements of disinfecting, social distancing, touch-free experiences and a highly safe and secure environment mean that unprecedented levels of effort are going into in-person worship.

The big question is if the future is digital, why the lop-sided investment? Everyone you want to reach is online, and digital ministry scales in a way that physical ministry does not.

Again, I think in-person worship is here to stay. I think it’s necessary both theologically and practically. And yes, your physical gatherings may still grow once all the dust settles. All that being true, in-person services will still likely be your smaller footprint moving forward.

So…why invest the vast majority of your time, energy and money into the platform that has the lowest return and the lowest potential?

You can invest for the past or invest for the future, but personally, I’d be investing for the future.

Your Digital Ministry Is Just Getting Started

So what do you do?

As much as you have dreams, hopes and prayers that seem infinite, you and I both live within the constraints of limited time, energy and resources.

To really positions yourself well for the future, here are three suggestions. (I outline more inside of parts 2 and 3 of the free 2021 Church Leader Toolkit here.)

1. Staff Your Online Ministry Like it’s Real Ministry Because It Is

First, staff your online ministry like it is real, because it is. As I outlined here (long before COVID) it was probably wise to start investing 30% of your staff resources in online ministry. Today that’s even more pressing.

You probably won’t have a big impact online when you spend 1% of your staffing resources on it.

2. Treat Online People Like They’re Real People, Because They Are

Second, treat the people you’re reaching online as though they’re real people, because they are.

The people watching you for the first time are real people. Sure, the algorithm can jack your numbers artificially high and 10 second views don’t amount to much. But some of those people are sticking around. Following you. Watching. Engaging.

In the same way you wouldn’t intentionally ignore a first time (or third time) guest in your lobby, don’t ignore the people engaging you on line.

If you want to expand your ministry next year, work as hard at cultivating community as you do on creating content in 2021.

3. Put Some of Your Physical Church Resources Into Digital Church

Finally, put some of the money you were going to put into physical ministry into better digital ministry.  (Hint, digital ministry doesn’t come even close to costing as much as physical ministry does. Here’s why.)

It’s not just new dollars that are needed. You can redeploy existing resources and staff to have a better reach.

My guess is, that like the rest of life (like it or not), more people will access your ministry for the first time through a screen than through a facility.

Churches that behave as though that’s true will simply reach more people.

The Real Innovation Lies Ahead

I hope that like me, you see the future as a time for real progress. The methods we used broke, but the mission has never been more important.

So here’s the thing about online church and online ministry:

You haven’t even really started yet.

The ‘innovation’ that happened in the first year of the crisis wasn’t really innovation. It was adaptation.

After a month or two of online church, a lot of church leaders settled into a pattern that would get them through the next few months and stopped experimenting.

Which means the innovation hasn’t even started yet.

If you’re really going to grow your mission, serve your people and reach new people, it’s going to take a lot of innovation and experimentation.

Which means you’ll need to stay curious and agile.

Positioning your church for strong digital ministry positions your church for the future. And if you really want to reach people, it may be the best strategy you have.

Position Yourself to Thrive in 2021

What if 2021 could be a year of real growth for you and your church?

I know, that sounds crazy, but like most things, it’s crazy until it’s not.

2021 can be a great year for you and your team, and I’d love to help you make it happen.

That’s why I created the 2021 Church Leader Toolkit.

Inside, I cover:

  • How To Produce Content That Actually Gets Read & Watched
  • 5 Keys To Better Digital Preaching
  • How To Keep You And Your Team Out Of Burnout
  • 7 Strategies To Deepen Digital Engagement
  • 3 Key Pivots For Every Organization In 2021

I’ll be releasing 5 parts of the toolkit throughout December. And it’s free.

You can get access and share these skills with your team here!

What’s In Your Future?

I realize not everyone will agree with these ideas…but what do you think about the future?

What’s the best investment for your time, energy and resources moving forward?

What are you experimenting with that’s working or not working?

In-Person Attendance v. Online Attendance and The Emerging Trap Of Doing Nothing Well


  1. on December 17, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for the insight! I think the point about putting physical church resources into digital church is extremely important. It forces us to take it “seriously” because it requires sacrifice. It also means that we start to see it as an integral, natural extension to our everyday ministry!

  2. Pastor Bev Sesink on December 4, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    Longing for the “good old days” but those are gone, or at least going. So “change and adapt” have to be new way to not only survive but perhaps and hopefully even thrive!

  3. Laura Rhoades on August 10, 2020 at 6:29 am

    Good article!
    What are your thoughts on churches that continually “advertise the selling point” of how many many years they have been in existence? This feels a bit detrimental to new people to me but what if anything does the research say about this? Does it make people more or less apt to attend a church that tours their many years of existence?


    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 3, 2020 at 7:18 am

      Hey Laura. Great question. I agree with Donald Miller (Story Brand) that nobody cares whether you grandfather started a business or how long your church has been around. I think having a sense of history can be good (I’m a history major) but the stability or legacy of the past only matters as it impacts the presence. I would think it’s best if people accidentally discover your rich history after they realized you’ve helped them in the moment. So I wouldn’t lead with it.

  4. Mount Carmel Christian Church on August 2, 2020 at 6:11 pm

    All of this sounds good but what about the small rural church? The majority of our congregation don’t have Internet access much less a computer or smart phone. I agree that the pandemic only sped up the inevitably. We’re dying a slow death- 13 today.

    • Vivien Masters on August 3, 2020 at 1:58 am

      We opened yesterday fully for the first time with 75% of our regular members of all ages. I wonder if this is because we did only a bit online but was fully involved in the community. Myself and my Warden distributed food, flowers to cheer those feeling down, family fun packs. We also helped in the community, things like acquiring a cooker for someone in need, clothes, games, etc.. We are just starting a Cool Food For Families project, giving food to families in need during the holidays. We live in a deprived area and we did this with little funding, we applied for grants where we could and paid ourselves when we couldn’t, my savings are depleted but but congregation has not, and the great thing is we have made so many connections with other services in the area, we now support each other. I have no doubt all of the congregation will return

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 3, 2020 at 7:21 am

      Hey…a little behind on this comment but can I just say I get it? When I began ministry in 1995 our smallest church was 6 people. That’s it. The mid-sized church was 14 and the mega-church that made up the three point charge was 23. I was 30 and the average age of the congregation was about 70.

      We didn’t have a phone in the building or heat except for church services, let alone internet. I had to work out of my basement because that’s where I could function with a computer and heat and AC. 🙂

      Today we’re over 1500 in in person attendance and 3-4K who call church home. So don’t give up! Think about the future. About your people’s kids and grand kids and cast a vision for them. Hope this helps!

  5. J Bakle on August 2, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    My town serves a high number of people who have substance use disorders. Like many places the opioid crisis has hit hard. So many people who are homeless, have substance use issues, ect have faith in God and utilize the churches. When Covid hit it sure seems like they just got abandoned. No one came around to the motels or camps to make sure they were ok. Overdoses have been increasing. And the virtual services are something most don’t have the tools to access. In the move to go online those who need help the most have been left out of the conversation. In my area community transmission of Covid is low, ministers could have held small groups outside or at least sent deacons around to check in with people.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 3, 2020 at 7:22 am

      I love your heart on this. That is a really powerful ministry for a local church. God be with you!

  6. Dale on June 22, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    Any way of getting a sample of the pivot material. We are a small church with a limited budget and I want to make sure that this looks like it will fit our rural setting

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 25, 2020 at 7:26 pm

      Hey Dale,

      There is a bit of information on this page here:

      But if you really wanted to test out the content, I do offer a 30-Day money-back guarantee with the course, so if you purchase it, and think it isn’t worth the money, we will refund it for you within 30 days.

      I hope this helps!

  7. Michael Noël on June 13, 2020 at 7:48 am

    I always enjoy your thought provoking insights Carey. One of these days, I will visit your church.

  8. Robyn Miller on June 11, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for this! I’m curious what churches are doing the Digital Ministry well? Not just online worship, but who has a digital discipleship process that’s working that we could learn from? I’m hungry for knowledge!

    • Sandy Smyth on June 11, 2020 at 3:53 pm

      I am doing a digital ministry. I have a divinity school background at YDS and am also a digital artist so this medium is very comfortable for me. Go to my. website for links to my online contemplativr services under 20 minutes at Feel free to share them.
      Sandy Smyth

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 12, 2020 at 12:56 pm

      There are many, I hope that Connexus Church (where I lead) is one of the churches leading the way ahead. (Here’s our site:

      Also, Life.Church is one of the forerunners in the space:

      There are many others as well.

    • Mark Holman on December 3, 2020 at 9:43 am

      What is interesting Nexstar Media is negotiating the purchase of You Tube and our church is using it. I hope that they do not remove this from Dish TV. And I’m on a metered internet service.

  9. Howard Travers on June 11, 2020 at 9:45 am

    My question is more about how to make the live services more interactive with those who actually attend the worship service. After all, they’re jumping through all the hurdles we’re putting congregants through right now with distancing, masking, hand sanitizing, temperature taking, etc. in order to attend worship. How do we make the live services, as Carey states “more interactive” with attending congregants versus the option of sitting at home and watching a prerecorded live stream? How do we offer those attending an incentive to continue wanting to attend versus the alternative?

  10. Keith Daugherty on June 9, 2020 at 10:48 am

    One of the things we did during the quarantine was invest heavily in our online livestream…and we saw the same trends that you discussed in your earlier posts [huge spike in views the first few weeks, then gradual decline]. We re-opened a few weeks ago, and we decided to adhere to the 25% guidelines and continue to even though those guidelines have increased to 50%, which means, instead of having one big service, we are holding 3 smaller services. Our first service is following the example of many stores, in that we are allowing only our 65+ or high risk folks attend. We also shortened our services to 45-60 minutes. By doing this, we have seen about 85-90% of our congregation come back, where other churches in our city that are holding only one service are seeing about 30-35% return. One thing I am noticing is a high percentage of our people that are angry that we closed, and are angry that we are following the guidelines…people that are generally good people are filled with a lot of anger towards the Church. And even with our high percentage of people returning, they still seem to think we should go back to the old model of one service–that somehow our church is different from what every other church is experiencing. I think, at least where we are, we have a huge divide between people that are legitimately afraid and many that are very angry thinking the church is catering to people’s fear. Not sure if anyone else is seeing this as well?

    • Patrick Bossio Jr on June 10, 2020 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks Keith, that’s great info.
      We just reopened in Downriver Metro Detroit after 12 weeks online. Our return service had new protocols that we were sharing for weeks. Our Comeback Celebration had about an 80% attendance. We did do one service and people were both excited and happy. We had enough room to keep families together and socially distance using Chair Spacer Cards for people to choose the space needed to clear seats around their own families. It worked out great but I do believe that we have to adjust for the 5X larger online audience we have gained. That’s our assignment now to minister to our new church model. Let me know when you write the script, lol.

      • Sandy Smyth on June 10, 2020 at 2:44 pm

        I am creating online worship videos for those who worship remotely. Take a look at my website These are exciting times for the church!
        Sandy Smyth

      • Mark Holman on June 10, 2020 at 4:16 pm

        I’m in discussion with my Co-Pastor and we will open the 28 June so we’re small enough to have all of the social distances being we donated our pews for very comfortable chairs that a fellow member donated the money to pay 100% for 50 chairs ordered and this works great! This may be something for discussion purposes and knowing that there’s the old argument to not spend money on referring to one discussion on stagnant leadership whining about spending money I get the same thing too.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 11, 2020 at 7:47 am

      Thanks for sharing. I’m sensing a lot of anger as well (just check any random comments on social feeds). I’m glad you’re leading your people by doing what’s responsible, not popular. Way to go!

    • Christina Berry on August 1, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      Keith, the church I pastor in a small town in Illinois has not yet resumed in-person worship, but I’m hearing about that anger from my colleagues. We have a weekly online meeting that used to be a book discussion, but lately is a support group. Our conclusions are that angry people are just angry in general, about everything, but worship and church life seem to them to be the one area over which they have some control. They desperately desire to get “back to normal,” and they feel lonely and disconnected, as if no one cares. We’ve found that offering other ways to connect has alleviated this for some. Others seem really stuck in their anger, and some of that group want to blame someone- usually the pastor.

  11. James Keith Broyles on June 9, 2020 at 2:36 am

    When Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast, I pastored smaller, mid-sized (or upper small-sized) church southwest of Houston. We averaged about 70 in worship. Following worship, on Sunday after the storm made landfall, the overwhelming majority of the town followed the mandatory evacuation orders we were given. As the next Sunday approached it was clear we would not be back in town for worship. I felt my congregation, spread-out as we were needed to have worship in some way. I decided to try Facebook live. I sent emails to all my members with email addresses and I ran some limited advertising for a couple of days before the service. I honestly didn’t expect much. I was totally shocked when our viewed number was in excess of 600. I know total views may not be the best number to use but I don’t know what is and to this point, I have remained consistent with the way we count, number of views. I know it counts those who stop and move on but other methods and this one too, don’t count that multiple people might be watching on the same connection. Following our return the next week, we continued with Facebook Live and we maintained over 200 per Sunday online for the remainder of the time I served that congregation. I went partime (due to family circumstances) and we started using Facebook Live here too. Since we began we have maintained an average of 105. During Covet quarantine we didn’t see much difference in our online presence from before and after. We made the decision to resume in-person worship on May 17. Last year our in-person average was 29. Since returning it is 14. The Live-stream numbers remain the same. We have not returned to our sanctuary yet and are meeting in the fellowship hall because the surfaces in the fellowship hall are far easier to decontaminate following worship.
    I am convinced and have been for since the post-Harvey days that the future of the Church is far more online than in-person. The Covit-19 experience has done nothing to change my mind on that. At least in the size congregations I serve, I was ahead of the curve. Because I have done this now for two years and most of my colleagues in similar settings are asking me questions that frankly I don’t know how to answer, all I have really done is worship and until the last few months it was almost exclusively carrying online an in-house feed, I would like to be part of a conversation on how we best carry out a type of ministry that is meaningful in a time when so many, particularly young adults see the church as irrelevant, can we find ways that they might see the Church as relevant again.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 9, 2020 at 7:40 am

      Thanks for sharing James! I think there is so much potential online.

      • Mark Holman on June 10, 2020 at 4:35 pm

        We’re using Facebook and Dish network has it for our package. Also here’s a idea and I’m presuming a lot of you may not know that you can put up a FTA (Free To Air) Satelite dish up with a very large tv the only cost is equipment and labor in USA the FCC already has a Teport and Order for areas to HSA and restrictions area of max 1 meter size dish the former church set one up.

        You can record a teaching and play it back later on

        I am also AAS degree in Information Technology, Amateur Radio Extra Class and a electronics techie for several years as well a Bible School Student, enjoying life every day

      • Mary Holley on June 11, 2020 at 10:12 pm

        Why are we excited about the future potential of on-line church? Having just gone through this experience with having to stay home and watch church (Pre-recorded. by the way. There was nothing “live stream” about it – about what our church was doing – except for a few times). It has not even come CLOSE to comparing to in person church. Our church usually has a full band and worship team with at least 3 vocalists. During this, we’ve listened to 1 or 2 people singing, with one guitar. The biggest part of the time, it was being recorded from those people’s basement at home, and we didn’t even SEE them most of the time. We saw words to the songs on our screens. Then we watched the pastor give his sermon, sitting behind his desk, in his home, while we could see his own personal belongings (guitars) hanging on his wall behind him. Now, I know that it just was what it was, but that WASN’T “church”.

        What you all are talking about – and what some of our people, who couldn’t attend services in person due to health reasons – were getting, before COVID – and what people choosing to stay home after we physically go back to the church, is vastly different from what we’ve been doing the past few months. They were, and will be getting REAL “live streaming”. They’re watching an actual service taking place. Not bits and pieces of services that have been pre-recorded, in different places, then all just put together into a video to play at a certain time on Sunday mornings. I want real church back again.

        • Craig on July 11, 2020 at 7:49 am

          Sounds like perhaps your church was not prepared to do online services with the excellence they deserve. Many churches have been doing a much better job. Online church is still church, if given the focus, creativity, and resources it deserves.

  12. Jeremy on June 8, 2020 at 11:35 pm

    Love this, I want to get real practical in this comment. I live in Ontario where Carey does and we’ve been given the green light to gather with a bunch of guidelines I won’t get into. My discussions with our team about future ministry (staffing, resources, gathering, digital presence) have been great and we’re in the same ballpark but are still very conceptual and vague. I want us to innovate, I’m simply having trouble moving to concrete decisions rather than complex dreams. We value personal over polish, the need to be interactive in person, give live and digital participants a similar experience, and our focus is on discipling. One big question I have is whether others have had success in honouring these kinds of values with a more personal livestream experience when gathered, or have created something completely different between digital and analogue with the same theme and message but different methods?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 9, 2020 at 7:43 am

      Jeremy. Well hello fellow Ontarian. I hear you. I literally just got off the phone with a friend who leads a large church in the US and the challenge right now is there is no good model of what the future church looks like. I think Mike Todd is a great example at Transformation church, but I honestly think it’s going to take a lot of experimentation. In some ways I look at my own journey in this space in the last 7 years. While I saw overnight traction on blogging and podcasting, it was only after years of expermenting and trying new things and stopping and starting different ventures that we got to where we are today, helping the leaders we do in the numbers we do. I think we’ll have a much clearer picture in a year or two. The point is simple: don’t abandon online. Keep experimenting. Same with in-person too. Don’t just go back to exactly how you did it. Experiment.

    • Sandy Smyth on June 9, 2020 at 9:21 am

      Go to for online youtube worship services I have created each less than 20 minutes.

  13. Rick on June 8, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    Love your thought-leading of us. I feel your stats on in-person attendance are premature, given the high restrictions that States and Provinces have placed upon gathered worship. To compare today’s in person service attendance with those restrictions to pre-Covid 19 attendance is misleading.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 9, 2020 at 7:44 am

      Hope you’re right. We’ll all know in a year or two.

  14. Dianne on June 8, 2020 at 5:42 pm

    We recently read “Neighborhood Church” and, as that book suggested, I look forward to online worship as well as using our building to socialize with community members. We are a so isolated today. Most of us would love to go to our church to fellowship with others on any day of the week- not just Sunday. We need to think outside the box.

  15. Ps Joe on June 8, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    I am interested in the futures of the church and technology platform beyond online. Possibilities in the 5G environment for the church

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 9, 2020 at 7:44 am

      I think this is worth looking into. I’ve heard 5G will change so much, but I haven’t researched how.

  16. Barnabas Sprinkle on June 8, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Carey, love your blog, have taken 2 of your courses. Question: why so much focus on worship? Jesus told us to make disciples, nor worshipers. And while worship may be a strategy for discipleship, we all learned from Willow Creek’s REVEAL that it’s really not a great one. Often, people drifting away from worship are simply not discovering life transformation. You talk of measuring engagement instead, but you seem to include facebook comments. I’ve gotten some comments I wouldn’t consider positive discipleship measures!
    How can we advance – and measure – discipleship, not merely worship? I’d love your thoughts on that!

  17. George Krahn on June 8, 2020 at 1:48 pm

    Perhaps I misunderstand your point but it appears to me you are suggesting that churches will eventually stop meeting together and go “digital” 100%. Or that they should. I think this completely misses the community aspect of local churches and their small groups. The Body of Christ must meet together in some physical fashion or it becomes a bunch of independent pieces doing their own thing. Zoom and Google Meet can never replace that. They can augment or enhance communal gatherings under certain circumstances but they can’t replace it.

    • Sandy Smyth on June 8, 2020 at 1:55 pm

      Thzt may depend on safety issues.

    • Almond on June 8, 2020 at 5:45 pm

      We have to go back to how the early Christians did church, they met in small groups, house churches.
      This method will be safer and we can have the full benefit of being intimate with other believers.
      Big Sunday gathering we can do it online at the same time we must meet in small group during the weekdays.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 9, 2020 at 7:46 am

      Hi George. No, the church will always gather. It’s just more of that gathering will be online, not in person. But in person experiences are here to stay.

  18. David Steunenberg on June 8, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Enjoyed the read.
    I have been concerned that many will not come back because of the tighter sanitary requirements and the feeling that will bring, especially to visitors.
    And families with small children will really be hesitant. IMO.
    I also think that if a church looks ahead, now is the time to make RADICAL decisions and changes.
    – length of service
    – elements in a service
    – ministry to people changes
    – kids and youth ministry repercussions
    – online strategies

    Exciting. Challenging.

    But, we have the greatest message to share!

  19. richard on June 8, 2020 at 10:08 am

    I think our cyberspace will be our next mission field. However, the churches are not really equipped to do evangelism or discipleship effectively in the cyber world.

    • Grace on June 11, 2020 at 7:40 am

      Hi Richard! So well said! This is the challenge for us – equipping God’s people for the new frontier of evangelism and discipleship in a cyber world. It is a new world. I am doing my best to be brave and embrace it in a way that enhances our in-person worship and discipleship experiences. God is doing a new thing!

  20. Dennis on June 8, 2020 at 9:54 am

    Thank you for the articles. I am guessing you’ve had more people reading them simply because more church leaders need help right now. Perhaps one of the biggest questions you could weigh into in a future article concerns the theological aspect of the church—or if you have written an article already, would you repost? We hear much about going online, but we also wrestle with the command to assemble (Hebrews 10:25) and to reach our community as a visible, local assembly. For many, depending on their theological or denominational leanings, the issue is a desire to reach people while still knowing they are being obedient to Scripture.

    • Christopher White on June 8, 2020 at 10:43 am

      I completely agree that this is the great accelerator and also that we are going to lose lot of churches before this is all over. It’s also the great equalizer as the size of your church doesn’t matter, it’s all about the quality of your content. Personally I think going back in a minimal hybridized way with masks, social distancing etc will kill us as people will come back and experience it as another loss in their Covid19 lives. So I am in no hurry to do that. When we do go back we be doing two services, a physical service and a separate on line service. I think they are very different experiences and I dont think combining them will work for either group. We need to be talking about changes to our job descriptions now.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 9, 2020 at 7:48 am

      I think that’s a great point. Our ecclesiology often gets ahead of our theology. I’m not a theologian nearly as much as I am a disciple and leader, but yes…that would be good fodder for future posts.

  21. Eric on June 8, 2020 at 9:29 am

    This is interesting to me. I am the youth and children’s minister at a small/medium church in a small town so I have also gained the online presence on top of family ministry. Ministry here tends to be to the whole community and not just the people that show up to church anyway because everyone knows who you are when you walk into a room. I am curious to see where this trend takes us in our area. I think you are right though about the trend of people who are Christians using covid as an excuses to not attend. We are in a community where a ton of our folks have lake or beach houses so in the summer vacate anyway.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 9, 2020 at 7:49 am

      Your last sentence reveals the real issue. 😉 But I love your community focus. Way to go.

  22. Mark Holman on June 8, 2020 at 9:03 am

    Hello Everyone, we’re watching services online being the Leadership at our church and District leadership until our Governor will allow full return of public gathering. Of course there will be some people that will want to get out of the house and go out until they clear the psychological effects of being cooped up and a Suggestion of post traumatic stress from any problems that may arise from what I’ve read that some counseling should be made available based on APA discussion and publications, discussion groups this is crucial as well increased alcohol and recreational drug use other addictions should be addressed as well.

    Also another thought of preplanning to leave anyway may been in the works weather was planning a permanent exit, as Employees do exit interviews the church should do when people leave. I’ve been in a situation myself yes the reason primarily I never agreed to join as Just Because of being a card carrying member for wrong reason however two changes later I’ve joined a denomination that I’ve agreed with and I am happy with the decision I’ve made.

  23. Busisiwe Xulu on June 8, 2020 at 8:40 am

    I wish we can brainstorm as church leaders on hoe we can keep our church members glued on screen with the online church trends . I find most of the viewers commenting less and paying less attention because they tend to look or watch something that will keep them on their toes. The truth is people become easily bored with online than being in actual church.
    I have also observe the attendance in churches after this pandemic attack ( Covid) . The number has gone from less to scarce. Why ? Because people are scared for their lives. Which leaves me a question. What are we doing as leaders to make the online church interesting and making sure that people attend church without fear!!!

  24. Susan Dunman on June 8, 2020 at 8:30 am

    Many things to think about. It seems one of the points emphasized for tweeting left out a word -“Digital ministry scales in a way that physical ministry does.” Was the intent for the last part of the sentence to read, “that physical ministry does not?”

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 8:39 am

      Thanks Mary! You saved that one. 🙂 Fixed.

  25. Ben DiStefano on June 8, 2020 at 8:28 am

    Carey, Innovate and Experiment … that’s what we’ve been doing and doing well. We’re beginning to have discussions about what our in-person gatherings will look like and what that does to our digital/online weekend expression. I feel like the value of online is in the intimate/personal feel, like you’re speaking “to” me not “at” me. And some churches have been great at making their weekend services/expressions feel that way (see Cross Point Church, Nashville). If our online expression becomes a live feed of the main stage, once we are back in-person, I wonder if we will lose that sense of personal connectedness that is the digital world and thus lose the audience we’ve been trying to reach. I wonder if we need to keep leaning toward making digital personal — always trying to also be engaging, and connecting people back to a type of gathering (life groups, serve groups, in-person weekends, etc.). I worry that we’re going to lose the connect to the travel-sports families, that we’ve been able to reach online either on Sunday or onDemand. Anyway .. that’s what I’ve been thinking about and your post here confirms it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 8:40 am

      Ben, so great to hear from you. And, yes, those are fantastic things to think about and pray about. I also wonder if travel sports is going to take a hit…but I think the default to digital and non-attendance is going to be a factor. These are brand new times.

  26. Ruth on June 8, 2020 at 8:11 am

    Fascinating trends to innovate and experiment around! With all the conversation centered on how to best go about providing a worship experience, I fear many churches have missed the opportunity to innovate and experiment with growing mission right in our neighborhoods. Most of us have spent more time in our neighborhoods than ever before and have had the chance to grow in-person relationships there. Let’s not miss this unique opportunity to lead our people into growing their mission through innovation and experimentation right in the neighborhoods God has placed us!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 8:24 am

      Ruth. You raise such a great point. Facility centered ministry can give way to community-centered ministry. Thank you!

  27. Mary Kangas on June 8, 2020 at 8:06 am

    How can we help the online church attendees to serve with the gathered church? I have seen a trend to stay at home but the now 80/20 rule of service is shrinking and the volunteers who are serving to provide those to stay at home are less. Our church is small and we definitely don’t have the best camera as larger churches. Our online just started weeks ago with borrowed equipment, $20 and a few volunteers who taught themselves. I know it’s not the best. Some that moved online now watch larger churches because the video sound are better. But when they need personal help they come back to the physical small church. How can online contribute and not just take? How can physical not get fatigued with less volunteers? Real problems after 13 weeks online.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 8:23 am

      I hear you Mary. Just a thought…you can’t change everything overnight, but maybe find a volunteer who has skill in digital and allocate 1-5% of your budget toward it. Build that over time and see what happens. Small beginnings still have great potential, and love the people you gather with physically well. I imagine as a smaller church you’re awesome at this.

  28. Phil on June 8, 2020 at 7:57 am

    Carey – We’re a small ministry (75-100) that has peaked electronically to approximately 250 since COVID19. Now our viewership has leveled off at approximately 80. So it seems that we’ve at least maintained our attendance (albeit on line) that we had prior to the pandemic. Most importantly, our offerings have been consistent our higher! (Hallelujah). We’re contemplating reopening on Father’s Day with a drive up service vs. in house service.
    What do you think?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 8:19 am

      Phil…glad to hear things are hanging together for you. Take a 3 year view. Where do you want to be in three years, and build out from there. Just avoid the trap in the process. Make sense?

  29. Peggy on June 8, 2020 at 7:44 am

    I’m sad to see that many of your posts have turned into “sales pitches”. I have usually enjoyed and learned from your posts. But lately, I don’t enjoy the sales pitches. I would suggest you separate out the two. I won’t be watching near as much if this continues.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 8:21 am

      Thanks Peggy. We’ve been using the same format for years. Sorry you don’t like it. I hope you enjoy and value the free advice. I’m going to keep giving it.

      • Virginia Ward on June 8, 2020 at 1:56 pm

        I definitely find much value in your posts even without getting any paid subscriptions. Thank you.

    • Timothy Jones on June 8, 2020 at 8:38 am

      Indeed. Painting a “doom and gloom” picture then selling the solution comes across as disingenuous.

  30. Justin Klatt on June 8, 2020 at 7:38 am

    Love this post Carey! Very good!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 7:44 am

      Thanks Justin. Just time for a little strategic rethink.

  31. Neil Strong on June 8, 2020 at 7:16 am

    I have always believed that the church was the one organization that existed for those who are not yet involed with Faith. With a online church we need to find ways to involve those who check in to go out and make disciples. As a church we haven’t done a great job of sending our member (disciples) out to make disciples. So the challenge for me is how to not make the same mistake. Online church reaching out to make disciples is N interesting chLlenge.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 7:22 am


  32. Mark on June 8, 2020 at 6:38 am

    Innovation is getting a digital ministry position (reassignment of duties) started that is more like a missionary to people, but you don’t know their background at the start. However, that position needs to report to someone very high in leadership so that it can get attention when it is needed and won’t be overlooked in meetings. However, you need some people in leadership from the private sector who understand the virtual world and human interactions through video chat or even messaging apps. It is likely that your current leadership (trustees) doesn’t have much experience in this. However, they call the shots and tend to not allow new people to enter or even receive advice from those with more expertise.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 7:21 am

      Good point Mark. None of us was trained for online ministry.

  33. Art on June 8, 2020 at 6:34 am

    While I have no reason to doubt what you are saying it seems our church is bucking the trend (thankfully). Our attendance before COVID-19 was around 250 -275. Our attendance yesterday was 200 with some new faces in the crowd. I can’t place my finger exactly on why. The two things we’ve done differently since our reopening is go to two services, and continue to push out daily content on our Facebook and YouTube pages like we were during the time we were not having in-person gatherings. We haven’t stopped investing in those areas post-reopening. We also haven’t started back our kids ministries yet, so I am expecting we may grow through this once our Kids Church and Nursery reopen.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 8, 2020 at 7:21 am

      Way to go Art. So encouraged to hear this!

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