You’ve probably noticed. Leading a church is more confusing, frustrating and complex than ever.

In this post, I’ll share some surprising data that shows why it feels that much harder, and some observations and suggestions that I hope can help point you in a more promising direction.

Please hear the tone of this post. I’m a huge believer in the mission of the local church.

I continue to be part of the local church and am doing all I can to support our church and churches around the globe.

So as hard as the news is in this post (and the self-reflection it provokes), I’m believing in a strong, fresh future for the church, its leaders and people.

That said,  the trends developing over the last year are more than a little alarming (I covered 3 other shocking statistics here).

Even if things swing back more positively in the post-pandemic church, these numbers are significant enough to make even the most optimistic leader pay attention and change course (I’m also an optimist).

While we won’t know the full impact of the disruption for a few more years, the steady decline of church attendance over the decades may be on the verge of becoming a new exodus.

Some recent Barna data that tracks the church attendance patterns of Christians and the general population during 2020 against a pre-pandemic benchmark shows some dramatic changes in church attendance patterns and attitudes.

I’ll share the results of that survey first, and then offer four reflections and reasons why we may seeing such a sudden exodus away from church. The first two are more about our strategy. The next two are more about our tone and the state of our hearts as leaders.

First, though, the numbers.

22% of Churched Adults Have Stopped Going to In-Person or Digital Church

The Barna Group polled the general population, practicing Christians and “churched” adults about their attendance patterns.

The main distinction between practicing Christians and churched adults was whether they considered themselves regular church attenders.

As you can see from the chart above, in 2019, only 14% of all US adults said they never went to church.

In 2020, that number jumped to 53%. That’s an almost 40 point jump in less than twelve months.

Even starker, though, is how practicing Christians and churched adults answered the question.

In 2019, 100% of practicing Christians and churched adults had gone to church within the past 6 months. Six months into the pandemic, 19% and 22% hadn’t gone to church at all —digital, physical or reopened.

Please let that sink in. One of five churchgoers have simply stopped attending all forms of church in 2020.

These numbers are also consistent with trends seen early in the pandemic when as many as 50% of Millennials said they’d stopped attending church of any kind.

So there’s no easy way to explain these numbers away.

Almost everywhere you click, the news is challenging.

‘Is This Real?’ Matters More Than ‘Is this Right?’

My guess is as you read through the data you’re alarmed, depressed and a bit angry.

One of the top responses I’ve seen here in the comments and on my social is leaders who are angry about trends like this, or who lament about how bad this is.

As a leader, you can ask the question “Is this right?” from several perspectives.

First, you can argue with the numbers…making up your own facts or looking at your own church as an exception to the rule.

If your church is growing, that’s amazing. But exceptions to the rule don’t change rules.

Second, you can argue that people are wrong in leaving the church.

That may be true…but just because it isn’t right doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Both of these reactions are just that: reactions, not responses. Wise leaders spend their energy responding instead of reacting.

Yes, there are great arguments in favour of digital and in-person church participation. As you can see from other Barna research, anxiety and worry seem to be higher among people who don’t attend church or stopped attending church.

Still, that hasn’t stopped people from not attending church.

Here are four reasons I see people are disengaging from the church in record numbers right now.

1. Overfocusing on Content At the Expense of Connection

Let’s start here.

In the early days of the pandemic, as almost every church pivoted to online, there was a lot of experimentation with different forms of ministry and connection.

Then a lot of churches abandoned experimentation in favour of adaptation.

Soon, most churches gave up doing almost anything other than streaming Sunday services or offering them on demand.

Yes, groups ran in the background and a few other endeavours were tried, but for most churches, the innovation stopped.

It’s like the old obsession with church attendance has become the new obsession of content consumption.

The problems associated with that are many.

First, people can get great content anywhere. So they do.

Second, the thing your church has to offer that others don’t is connection—real relationship.

Content alone won’t build the future, connection will.

Moving forward, rethink what you’re doing online to make it more about connection than consumption.

Connection leads to community and relationship—with God and each other.

Moving forward, make the goal of digital content connection, not consumption.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this in future posts, but let’s leave it there for now.

2. An Obsession with Attracting, Not Equipping

It’s great to get a lot of views, but the deeper question is what do those views produce?

In the same way a lot of us (myself included) love to see a full room, watching your view count can be a great dopamine hit (for more on what triggers you and why you love full rooms/large views/record stats, read this).

It’s just so easy to focus on attracting, not equipping.

To some extent, the pandemic era church revealed what we had produced: lots of attenders who, once the pattern was interrupted, stopped attending.

It was easy to assume we had cultivated devotion, but instead what we’d really done is created attendance habits that once the pattern was interrupted, quickly dissolved.

To reference the over-used proverb, perhaps we took too many people fishing, but never taught them how to fish.

For years here we’ve talked about the need to focus on engagement, not attendance.

In the digital disruption that’s changed so much, the focus has to shift further from engagement to equipping.

With more people moving than ever before (just wait for 2021), the rise of location-independent churches, and the fragmentation that digital options create, it’s almost like you have to view the people you reach like a teenager who needs to learn to cook, clean and budget before heading off to college. Disciples who know how to follow Jesus endure much better than disciples who have church leaders (priestly, pastoral, or celebrity) who do it for them.

And, of course, that makes engagement even more important. Engagement that leads to connection, that leads to community, that leads to equipping.

That was kind of the mission all along, but the recent crisis has brought it into even sharper focus.

3. Christian Meanness on Social Media

This may be the year where almost everyone considered deleting their social media accounts. I know I did.

I searched for the right adjective to describe the tone of Christian posts I’ve seen this year, and the best one I could come up with was ‘mean’.

What many church leaders forget is that whenever you post, the world is watching.

That jab you took at someone you don’t like. That right hook you threw at someone who’s different than you. The cynical/angry/sarcastic rant you posted thinking you told everyone what they need to know.

You know those posts? The ones that get commented on and shared because the internet likes anger?

Those posts.

I’m guessing it leaves non-Christians wondering why Christians are so mean. At least it leaves me wondering that.

The unchurched are watching. And listening. And for the most part, you don’t even realize they are. But your profile is public. And they know…they’re connecting the dots.

And maybe, just maybe, while they’re watching and listening, they’re walking away.

2020 was not the Christian world’s finest hour on social media.

Time and time again, when the world needed love, Christians gave it judgment.

It’s not our job to judge the world. It’s our job to love it.

Ultimately (and this is my challenge to myself), any tone issue isn’t really a tone issue: it’s a heart issue.

Because out of the overflow of your heart, your mouth (and fingers) speak.

When our hearts heal, the church will heal.

4. Making Politics and Ideology More Important Than Theology

I wonder if years from now we’ll talk to people who bailed on the church and realize the exodus during the pandemic wasn’t medically induced, but politically induced.

More than any other year I can remember, the evangelical church became inflamed politically and ideologically. Regardless of which direction you lean, it wasn’t pretty.

Having lived and led in a post-Christian culture for decades now (Canada), my experience is that people who show up at a church in a post-Christian culture (which America is quickly becoming) aren’t looking for my political views or ideological bent—they’re looking for God.

My hope is that Christians look, live and sound much more like Jesus than the political candidate of their choice.

The last vestiges of Christendom may be slipping away in America. And that’s not fatal to the church. Not in the least.

The church was the church long before Constantine and has often been at its best when the culture is indifferent or hostile to it.

It allows love, compassion, generosity, mercy, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice that characterize authentic Christianity to shine.

And, contrary to what many believe, that is in abundant supply in many—if not most—churches.

The collapse of Christian culture should bring out the best in us, not the worst.

What many church leaders are about to face is this truth: Unchurched people aren’t looking for Christendom. They’re looking for Christ.

I pray they find him in our churches.

What pivots do you need to make to flourish in 2021? Some Help.

As hard as it might be, what if 2021 could be a year of real growth for you and your church?

You know that in 2020, some organizations grew while others struggled. I’d love to help your church thrive in 2021.

I know, that sounds crazy (especially after a post like this), but like most things, it’s crazy until it’s not.

I believe 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
  • 7 Strategies To Deepen Digital Engagement
  • How To Keep You And Your Team Out Of Burnout
  • 3 Key Pivots For Every Organization In 2021

The toolkit is free.

You can get access and share the kit with your team here!

What Do You See?

This is a highly complicated subject that 1700 words can’t do justice to.

But clearly something is shifting.

What do you see shifting, and how are you responding? Scroll down and leave a comment!

A recent survey shows more people stopped attending church in 2020 than any other single year. What's going on? Here are four possible reasons behind the new exodus.


  1. Bob on February 23, 2021 at 5:07 pm

    The answer is for Christians to junk the institutional church. That will free them to follow the biblical Christ, not the gods of clericalism.

    • Jacob Flaherty on February 24, 2021 at 1:06 pm

      I agree that the “big C church” as a whole needs radical and healthy change to become impactful again, but I would kindly note that your post plays into the very issue Carey talks about in #3.

      That said:
      The Torah wasn’t junked for the New Testament.
      Jews weren’t junked for gentiles in the New Testament.
      CS lewis wasn’t junked for Timothy Keller.

      All things on this earth, marred by sin, MUST change and in our case, we must be in constant prayer so that we may continually align with Christ’s will. It is a never ending balancing act.

      But to assume that Christ accepts your version of church over you interpretation of the institutionalized church seems….idk…. hard to accept.

  2. David on January 14, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    Men (this could be true of women and others) leave or never come because their God calling is marginalized / neatly ignored in church services.

    If I find a Bible led church where one of the goals is to only allow those called of God into leadership as the main ministers of spiritual encouragement and not expected of those in the flock at large – I’m leaving my church to attend it.

    Many, especially men, leave churches because they believe they have enough faith calling “ministry” with their job and family without being marginalized or even shamed because they are not doing “church ministries too”.

    Why for example isn’t it enough for a family man (could be other type of individual) to reflect a precious vibrate faith walk with God as a reflection of someone who has allowed Gid to work “in and through them.”?

    Do they also have to add an extra church meeting (to stress family etc..) to be “obedient to God ?”

    Obviously, not.

  3. SHARON L BEYER on January 4, 2021 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for the encouragement to keep connecting. As part of an intercultural Mennonite church, I love our Zoom small group meetings, our outside gatherings when possible, and our livestream services, just improved with a new camera in the church. The pre-recorded services just didn’t do it! After reading all the comments I want to continue to follow this important conversation.

  4. Diane on January 3, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    I am a lifelong Christian who has recently left the congregation where I have been active for many years. This has been a great grief to me. My story is sadly not unique. I just don’t recognize Christ in much of Christianity and to stay is to be complicit. My Jesus doesn’t put children in cages, doesn’t separate desperately poor children from parents whose major parental flaw is that, due to massive global economic upheaval, they can’t provide for their children, doesn’t callously disregard the suffering of the sick and elderly, or turn away from the fear and despair of the underemployed or unemployed among us. I am an ecologist rather than a bible scholar, but these are social ills that should not be politicized and the gospels are replete with Jesus ministering to the disadvantaged, the overlooked, the powerless. I was taught to sing “Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight”. I don’t see the church as an institution putting Jesus’ love into action. We talk a whole lot about love, but we don’t practice it. That dishonesty has something to do with why many people are leaving.

  5. Evangelist Benn Sampare on January 3, 2021 at 11:00 am

    The problems in the N. American church are:
    To many denominations…..the church is divided which is against the Word of God
    Denominations are more concerned about numbers than discipleship and discipleship is what Jesus commands.
    There is to much stress on one verse about attending meetings and not enough teaching about being filled with and being led by the Spirit
    Let us really return to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, not only reading, but believing what God says and practicing what the Word says to practice, not merely hearers only but doers of God’s Word.

  6. Jenn on January 3, 2021 at 5:05 am

    Some of us weren’t getting much community from the church before covid. I’m over 35, unmarried with no family and the church is more than happy to receive my volunteer services, but reluctant to provide connection outside of Sunday service and Bible lessons. I can volunteer anywhere and get more connection in some of those local, secular places.

  7. Ann on January 2, 2021 at 6:52 pm

    Pre, now or post Covid19, Jesus said- in the end times many will leave the faith.

  8. Jeff Norus on January 1, 2021 at 8:08 pm

    Connection? What’s missing is that the church hasn’t been good with connecting people to Jesus in a real authentic relationship. For the most part the American church has watered down the Word of God because pastors are afraid they might offend someone. Instead of feeding the sheep there entertaining the goats. Instead of the church going out into the world we have brought the world into the church. Masses are leaving because there roots are shallow. Jesus said it would cost you to follow Him. He never promised us a health, wealth, prosperity Gospel. For many churches, were using the worship music to tug on a persons emotional heart strings, so when people leave they feel good because they shed a tear. When in reality nothing spiritual really took place in their life because the sermon had no substance or no meat. Scripture says the Word of God will cut you, it should make you bleed. The clergy in America have become so consumed with numbers, we’ve missed the mark of true discipleship. We are now reaping what we have sowed. So should this really surprise us? I believe the pastors of the American churches have a lot of explaining to do too God.

  9. Marie Bowling on January 1, 2021 at 6:16 pm

    No comments for now

  10. Elizabeth "Ray" Beale on January 1, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Carey,
    I believe a phrase is missing from Click to Tweet Point #2 that changes the meaning of what was intended.
    Thanks so much to your great team and you!
    Elizabeth Ray Beale

  11. Mark Greenwood on January 1, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    Good article. I am not a protestant, I can’t even understand why someone would be one. However, I am very concerned about the decline in faith in Christ. I have noticed in my travels the cultural taboos in talking about religion. It is sad that in many churches around the world the youth are declining in numbers while the blue haired ladies pride themselves in scriptural knowledge. It is a strange type of Christianity. Although I do not agree with the authors implied answer to this problem in independent locally franchised churches, I am concerned about how people look at my savior Jesus Christ.

  12. Ernie R on January 1, 2021 at 1:11 am

    Hmmm…While I do appreciate the value of seeing some of the impact of our crazy year on church attendance, the two graphs Carey presented actually measure different things, and I think Carey has mistakenly conflated them in a way that draws inaccurate (or at least not well supported) conclusions.
    Notice that the first graph–which measures most recent attendance–says that 32% of all US adults attended church within the past month pre-pandemic (as measured in December 2019). The second graph–which measures frequency of attendance during the COVID pandemic (March through mid-Sept)–indicates that 31% of US adults have attended church at least monthly during the pandemic. So that statistic seems to have held surprisingly steady. For practicing Christians, on the other hand, it does appear that the percentage who attended within the past month did drop by a significant amount, namely by 27% (from 100% down to 73%), but again, these aren’t exactly apples to apples comparisons. For churched adults, 80% had attended church within the past month pre-pandemic (measured in Dec 2019), but only 60% continued at least monthly attendance during the pandemic.
    While these data do tell us that some fall-off has occurred in 2020, I don’t believe they don’t give us enough info to draw all of the conclusions Carey made. For example, though we’re not told what percentage of the US adult population is represented by practicing Christians and churched adults, the fact that an apparent drop-off of 27% and 20% respectively in monthly attendance would produce only a 1% drop in the overall US adult population attending at least monthly suggests that these subgroups are a fairly small proportion of the total. If so, that ought to concern us as much as the drop-off in attendance, for which commenters have pointed out numerous reasons people have altered their patterns. So perhaps more caution is in order before we draw our conclusions and attempt to fashion solutions.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 1, 2021 at 8:30 am

      Hi Ernie. Thanks for the analysis. I’ve seen a number of leaders tackle the data like you have trying to minimize the downside. I sincerely hope you’re right, but every researcher I speak to and data point I see seems to point in the direction I’m suggesting. Again, I hope I’m wrong. Thanks for the comment.

  13. Mike N. on December 31, 2020 at 11:33 am

    I am curious if this is an “Exodus” of genuine believers leaving, or if this is a moment of sifting/separating that is simply an actual depiction of the reality of Christian faith in the US.
    Just like panning for gold, you fill up your pan with a big scoop of dirt, and the sift it around until everything but the more weighty gold remains.
    I personally believe that this can be a very good thing. NOT because Christians are golden and everyone else is just dirt/rubbish and worthless.

    We are told by Jesus that “they way is narrow” which leads to salvation, and that many will choose to not follow it. We are also told by Him that many who call Him “Lord, Lord” will not enter into His kingdom. The question is: Is it good to have people who are not truly saved attending church and assuming that they are saved?
    Maybe God is sifting us around right now, and we are able to more accurately see how vast the missionary field is in our own country, state, community, and church. That is not a bad thing at all. Real numbers should be preferred to inflated ones.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 1, 2021 at 8:28 am

      I think you have a solid point. I think it’s a mix of the decline of cultural Christianity and genuine Christians who are searching for something else. I think we’ll find out down the road. Thanks!

  14. Mark Agbeko on December 31, 2020 at 9:12 am

    Though the research that churned out these statistics (stats) may have a particular focus; to unravel attitudes and behaviors towards traditional Church – Church as we know it. My question, the stats/ information misses out on whether these persons who have stopped attending church of any kind have been attending certain home meetings, worship time with family etc? How many have fallen into a deconverted category? Or how many have simply lost interest in anything Church as we know it; fallen into the category of “have seen it all and the school of the ready convinced”? It will be good to have some trends on these as well which I estimate will compliment the above and rebound to a better appreciation of where the Exodus is heading?

    Key for me, what direction is the mass Exodus heading?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 1, 2021 at 8:31 am

      Mark you’re asking a great question. I think the answer is probably a mix. Some are just gone. Some are doing their own thing. I think more data to answer your question will emerge as the dust settles. Clearly some kind of shift is happening.

      • Mark Agbeko on January 1, 2021 at 11:32 am

        Many thanks, Carey will look forward to the new data that speaks to the other side of the issues. I cannot more than agree; undoubtedly a major shift has happened already. However, many will continue live in state of denial with total disregard to the telltale signs whereas should such palpable signs be investigated which could lead to strategic choices, changes even organisationally and regarding placement of resources. Thank once again.

  15. Mark Agbeko on December 31, 2020 at 9:05 am

    Though research that churned out these statistics (stats) may have a particular focus, to unravel attitudes and behaviors towards tradition Church. My question, the stats/ information misses out on whether these persons who have stopped attending church of any kind have been attending certain home meetings, worship time with family etc? How have fallen into a deconverted category? Or how many have simply lost interest in anything traditional Church; fallen into the have seen it all and the school of the ready convinced? It will be good to have some trends on these as well which I estimate will compliment the above and rebound to a better appreciation of where the Exodus is heading?

    Key for me, what direction is the mass Exodus heading?

  16. J F on December 30, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    Why did they leave? They didn’t honestly see any difference in not going. The church was another social club, not any real transformation power. Psychology over theology. Enneagram is taught over Holy Spirit. Now have a generation of attenders that are given feel good motivation not discipleship or biblical world view. Progressive mom bloggers and enneagram gurus are worse than overt political ideology that subvert and sway to leave your dusty old cross – its outdated, iok to have abortion, gay marriage, why be a single issue voter, the mean orange man isnt nice and we need caring marxism to feed the poor. The left has hi jacked many with this lie wrapped in a bit of truth and these shallow rooted attenders, say why bother, just veg on Netflix and pass the milk.

    • Mike on December 31, 2020 at 10:16 am


  17. Laura G. Vaden on December 30, 2020 at 10:32 am

    Thank you for helping me see my need to show Christ more in my posts and not succumb to rude remarks when I am upset about something someone posted. This is my big failure when I allow remarks from non-Christians to get me upset and instead of showing mercy or love, I show coldness or make snarky remarks. Please pray for me that I will be the person God wants me to be at all times….through me actions, thoughts, and words.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 1, 2021 at 8:33 am

      Laura I love your heart. You’ll notice I try to be careful which comments I engage in too. Some I delete, some I ignore. You sound like you want to be one of the good people on the internet. I love that.

  18. Jason on December 29, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    The numbers you are using are data acquired at the end of April and beginning of May 2020. These numbers may better reflect a “shock” to the systems, and not anything like a new normal. Or even what practicing Christians are doing once the “shock” wears off and people decide what kind of new steps they are going to take moving forward. I’m disappointed that these numbers are from May…. The world is profoundly different 7 months later.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 30, 2020 at 7:25 am

      Thanks for sharing that. The main data in the post is from September 2020.

      Other reports show the average return to church attendance is 36% pre-COVID numbers. That’s a Q3 2020 stat.

      Even the largest churches I’m talking to are seeing 50% of what they used to see in person.

  19. Jeff on December 29, 2020 at 6:44 pm

    I have many missions. President of the church council. President of the local amateur radio club. Full time employee in a small manufacturing company. Parent, home owner, etc… I still make time for reflection and prayer alone with God. Much better than social media. The radio club can’t meet anymore either so we have a “Hams&Eggs” breakfast every Saturday morning on Zoom. Not a big group, but 6 to 10 attend regularly. Absolutely it’s all about connection. By the way amateur radio is having a banner year. Why? Connections with 10’s of thousands of other ham operators around the globe. We at the church have had live streaming and per-recorded services but our most successful has been the drive in worship services which have continued up until last week. People can connect even if its only 5 minutes outside their cars after the service. With winter closing in I’m thinking about a post service Zoom meeting and let people split off into smaller groups. Zoom works better with smaller groups I’ve found. So what should I call this Zoom meeting? Suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 30, 2020 at 7:26 am

      I’ll open it up to others Jeff but you’ve hit on an important theme: connection. Way to go.

  20. Mitzi Eaker on December 29, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    Good insights! I’m a digital marketing consultant whose background is in Christian publishing and family ministry. Ten years ago when I started my marketing business, the church in general was not really interested in building community. However, Christian mom bloggers thrive on community and they became the experts at building community online. Today, these bloggers, my digital peers, have huge communities who genuinely feel connected. Aside, they also have successful books and/or missional businesses. The church can take a lesson from them as to what it takes to build community online and off- authenticity, vulnerability, and value added content. Today, building community online is no longer an option when attendance is optional.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 30, 2020 at 7:29 am

      Mitzi…there is SO much to learn from mom bloggers and women leading alongside the church. You’re so right…women understand tribe much better than men. I’ve been learning a ton from women leading in this space. Long term podcast listeners will know my respect for what so many women have done in terms of building real community. Thanks Mitzi!

  21. Daniel on December 29, 2020 at 8:30 am

    Really insightful article. Daily accurately describes my general observation. What isn’t addressed is the reason it’s been difficult to attend church during the pandemic (via in person on online).
    1. The church I attended closed completely to in person until August (and personally I was out of the country for work at the end of June)
    2. When church did open, it was so limited and nothing for the kids (I have 3, ages 6, 5(with severe special needs), and 2) that it was impossible to be ministered to while having to handle everyone, not to mention the attendance restriction.
    3. Tying in #2 here, the hoops that we had to jump through to attend in person was near insanity (and it’s understood it’s not the church’s fault on this by any means)
    4. Online service was mediocre at best-no connection, easily distracted, mind wandering-again, kids weren’t engaged.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 30, 2020 at 7:30 am

      Daniel, thanks for your observations. And I’m sorry the reopening has been so hard for your kids.

      #4 is really under explored by leaders. There’s what we think is happening (rapt attention) and what’s actually happening (lots of distraction and multi-tasking). Community can help fix that.

  22. Chuck on December 29, 2020 at 6:19 am

    Great post, Carey! But while it’s understandable to view this subject amid the backdrop of the pandemic, these issues have zero to do with it. They may have been accelerated or enunciated or showcased by it, but they were issues long before “covid” was part of the public vocabulary. What the pandemic contributes to the discussion is that, ironically, it puts these issues front and center instead of giving us a place to hide from them. It’s time for the church to buck up, fess up, and shape up.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 29, 2020 at 7:22 am

      Couldn’t agree more. These all got exposed and accelerated, but they’ve been around for years…decades.

    • David Johnson on December 29, 2020 at 7:55 am

      Chuck, I agree. I’m wondering, though. In your heart/mind, what does the “buck up, fess up, and shape up” look like? Are there specific things you think the Lord is calling the Church to?


    • Femi Imevbore on December 30, 2020 at 12:35 am

      Thanks Pst Carey (it’s not culturally acceptable in Nigeria where I live and Pastor a small community church to call you Carey). Anyway the facts seem to have global application albeit for different reason. In Nigeria I believe the major decline in Church Attendance are for economic reasons rather than other considerations. Another reason is that the Church has been reacting to government policies rather than been proactive and influencing policies. This in my view has created a bit of mistrust about the ability of the church to lead society and give spiritual direction especially during the pandemic.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on December 30, 2020 at 7:32 am

        Thanks Pst. Femi. Some really great observations here. And a very different context with unique challenges.

        Funny how calling me ‘Carey’ here gives the church an advantage, whereas in your culture it doesn’t. I’m all for whatever works best. 🙂

  23. Jeff Lavender on December 28, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    “This is a highly complicated subject that 1700 words can’t do justice to.” Indeed!!, and I can understand why Pastors are much more sensative to seeing such a lack in in person and digital service attendance having been given the heart to shepard God’s chosen people. But then for me, a sheep of the Great Shepherd himself, finds comfort in even one verse alone whether I’m attending church online or in person or at all and that verse is found in John the Gospel : Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.” “But the time is coming, indeed it is here now, when true worshipers will worship the father in spirit and in truth. The father is looking for such who will worship him that way”. John 4:21,23. So you see really it is simple this is supposed to be happening. It is the Father himself looking for true worshippers!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 29, 2020 at 7:24 am

      You’re not alone in this Jeff. I worry about hyper-individualism. Zero indication you’re there, but the great worry is that Christians dissociate from each other. That’s not healthy either. But for sure, what you point out is very true!

  24. Holly on December 28, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    A big one I see where I live (North Texas) is the response to the pandemic, which ties into the political aspect. Many preachers are claiming “faith over fear” and essentially denying the seriousness of the pandemic, even as their members are dying from it. It’s almost like you have to choose between what the pastor is saying vs what you see around you. Some churches near me even proudly announce that their in-person services are no masks required. That leaves people with a bad taste in their mouths about church itself and Christians in particular. If they’re worried about the pandemic, they don’t feel the church is handling it correctly and I’ve heard people say that they don’t feel like their church cares about their health and safety.

    • MikeR on December 28, 2020 at 3:47 pm

      Truth is also at stake. The virus is 99% survivable per the cdc, and overall deaths are down from 2019 & 2018 individually. If I get sick, I don’t ask healthy people to stay home or mask up… that is selfish… they should live life and keep their jobs so they can live.
      -one of those North Texas preachers

      • Tori on December 28, 2020 at 4:08 pm

        Survivable doesn’t mean without consequences as many survivors are having long term effects. It also doesn’t show how many hospitals are overwhelmed leaving previously survivable conditions now fatal. Attitudes like yours are why I no longer trust most preachers, Only in it for themselves.

      • Mark on December 28, 2020 at 4:25 pm

        For some reason, some Christians are not doing one of the most simple teachings of the faith, loving their neighbour as themselves. The truth is that this virus kills people and is highly contagious. Why can’t you understand that? We don’t know what will be the survival rate 5 years from now. People are dying months after recovering from the virus, seemingly healthy, yet from the virus.

      • Holly on December 28, 2020 at 7:02 pm

        My husband has cancer, so he’s in that one percent that’s likely not to survive if he gets the virus. We look for Christian charity in the form of others who respect his risk, as well as those who are also at risk, and choose to take precautions accordingly. Precautions in the form of mask wearing and social distancing hurt absolutely no one, but the choice not to take those precautions speaks volumes about how much others care about our lives.

        • Carey Nieuwhof on December 29, 2020 at 7:27 am

          Thanks sharing that Holly. I’m so sorry about your husband’s cancer. Well said.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 29, 2020 at 7:26 am

      Thanks Holly. I hear you…and and the comment thread below (and elsewhere on this blog) indicates you’re calling things accurately. I think we should be known how we care for our most vulnerable. I hope the church does that better moving forward.

  25. Truett Baker on December 28, 2020 at 1:57 pm

    The Barna report involves all denominations. I have been a Southern Baptist since age seven. I am still a Baptist but Southern Baptists left me in the early 1980s when the convention was taken over by the fundamentalists. I can only speak as a Baptist. The Barna report mentioned three subjects I will briefly comment on: connection, meanness on social media and emphasis upon politics. These three perfectly fit the “walk-away” reason applied to Southern Baptists (SB). The new SB convention majors on “dis-connection” rather than connection. The “connection” for them applies only to those who have the “right” beliefs. “meanness on social media” is a systemic problem, not just on social media but in every venue of Southern Baptist life. That is a general characteristic of fundamentalism. “Magnify politics” is also systemic. That was what the take-over was all about. I don’t blame people from walking away from this tragic conversion. I know that’s why I walked away.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 29, 2020 at 7:28 am

      Truett…so sorry to hear you walked away. There are some great churches out there. Don’t give up. Thanks for sharing your story and sorry for the hurt.

  26. Judy Barnes on December 28, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    Was reading more about this today… statistics show that Millennials aren’t following the usual pattern of coming back to church as they marry and have children; an increasing number don’t see religion as being necessary to teaching their children about morality, etc. Also, in many ways due to online dating, there’s a rise in neither spouse being religious. For me, this is a huge reason to focus on response rather than reaction. And your last points are so important, I read a post on Twitter where someone asked if Christians had any idea how many atheists they were creating because of their mean posts.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 29, 2020 at 7:28 am

      All great points (and true) Judy. Thank you.

  27. Joseph O. Oyaka on December 28, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you so much man of God. I always learn great and encouraging lessons from your podcast. Preachers should use their various platforms to proclaim the goodnews of God’s love rather than spreading hatred in a world that needs more love and peace from God through his representatives.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 29, 2020 at 7:29 am

      Thanks so much Joseph…and I’m in on the love and peace. 🙂

  28. Jason on December 28, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks for this post Carey. I appreciate reading your views on things and particularly liked this post. I saw a video earlier this month where a man was talking about the difference between addition and multiplication and going after conversions compared to making discipleship. Often the church pursues filling our pews, or in the case this year, getting lots of likes and views, but true discipleship cannot happen apart from close connection and it takes time. However, the results with enough time discipleship has a much bigger payoff.

    Think about this. If I found someone new every day and convinced them to come to church for 25 years I would have invited approx. 9125 people to church in that time. But if I took a year to feed into one persons life and really disciple them, and taught them to go fourth after the year was done and do the same, so that we both went in year 2 and found 1 person each to disciple, and taught them to do the same, and so on and so forth for the next 25 years, we all would total 33,554,432 disciples being made after the 25th year. That’s the difference between discipleship and attendance, multiplication compared to addition. May we all focus on making disciples in the years to come. Blessings.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 29, 2020 at 7:29 am


  29. Lori on December 28, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Thank you!! As a former church staffer, I am one of those who stopped watching. I teach in a Christian school, high school apologetics and Bible. We meet in person. Our staff comes together for devotions and prayer. We have chapel. Essentially my school has become my church because – connection. So many churches I’ve worked with in the past and our current church went not only to digital but pre-recorded. It was like watching a television program and felt nothing like church. No connection. So why watch? I want to go back to church! I want to be a small group leader again. I want the connection to others in the body of Christ. We were designed for connection with others. It is never going to come through live-stream or pre-recorded services.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 28, 2020 at 1:06 pm

      Hey Lori…thanks for sharing this. I have a feeling the church of the future will see what you’ve been doing over these last few months and rather than see it as ‘competition’, fuel it. Support you. Encourage you. Equip you (not that you need it).

      We’ve made it an either or thing…Either you’re in the building or you’re not part of the church. I hope and pray that’s changing.

      You’re deeply connected…and I love that you miss church. 🙂

  30. Tori on December 28, 2020 at 11:48 am

    The last two points definitely track with what I’m seeing in my corner of the disabled community. A lot are struggling to see how they can connect with a congregation based on responses to the pandemic. There are a lot feeling like they no longer have space.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 28, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      It’s just so hard when you see hate Tori. I hear you!

  31. Bako OM Dogari on December 28, 2020 at 11:33 am

    Excellent postulations!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 28, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you Bako!

  32. David Dickson on December 28, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Hi Carey, I red your blog and listen to the podcast every week (and regularly share with my leaders and others) as I appreciate your insights and observations. This one is right on point also, especially the meanness of Christians. I have been repeatedly disturbed at posts I have seen from my own church members spreading disinformation, conspiracy theories and half baked “Bible truths” with a spirit that is definitely not Christlike with those who may dare disagree with their conclusions. In the UK we are definitely post Christian in the culture and I think your lessons are useful for those not so far along the spectrum. Equipping has got to be the way forward even if it means we are dealing with smaller numbers. It’s one of the reasons I personally invest so much in to Missions because we need to sow into the next generation and not focus on maintaining our own traditions.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 28, 2020 at 1:08 pm

      David I love the hope I see in your comment. Keep going…and keep being a force for good in the world. Thank you!

  33. Matt on December 28, 2020 at 11:13 am

    Does the research reflect a particular definition of church? I know some that would say they haven’t gone to church since March (even though they have attended online) because they were not in the building.

    I know in my setting people are hungry for connection and community. Something we didn’t do well before. Based on what some have said, might have started to do better during a pandemic.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 28, 2020 at 1:08 pm

      It’s a great question Matt. The 2020 question specifically asked people if they attended in person or digitally, trying to catch all forms of ‘attendance’ and participation. I would imagine most people understood that as they answered. Hope this answers your question.

  34. David Johnson on December 28, 2020 at 10:57 am

    Thanks for this. Very challenging times we are living in, and it calls us to further prayer and dependence on the Lord, for sure! I have been feeling for years–and this is confirmation, in my mind–that people within the Church have often ‘settled’ for easy church traditions. When those are challenged or difficult, many simply abandon them. I believe that the Lord is actually allowing the pressure to be turned up, so as to ‘refine’ His Church. Eventually, the ‘Bride of Christ’ will shine all the brighter as we await the Bridegroom. So, how do we help our people get ready? Worship. Prayer. Surrender. Love. Obedience…nothing new in the bunch, but a clearer call to going ‘all-in’ on these things is key. I also think that those who are spiritually hungry and thirsty outside the church are looking for this too. They don’t want ‘cultural Christianity’ (“Christendom” as you called it). They want the real, life-changing, eternity-focused stuff! He is calling to pure worship! How do we get there? I believe that this can happen in small groups and gatherings, as well as in the large ones. I believe that it needs to be both/and, not either/or. When I look at Acts 2, I see that the early church gathered in ‘the Temple courts’ as well as ‘House to house’. We are being called to that again, I think.

    I appreciate your ministry!


    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 28, 2020 at 1:09 pm

      You’re so right David…everything old is new again and we need to have a lot more dependence moving forward.

      • Cameron on December 29, 2020 at 5:40 am

        Its uncanny that when hear some info you share my first thought is no never in our church and yet finding sadly how much more impacted we’ve been than thought. Although we had much less restrictions to other countries I’m surprised we too are seeing those who were regular now just happy to watch multiple services from around globe and when talk about meeting then excuses come.

        My add-on is that in trying to reinvent ourselves we’ve forgotten difference between church and christian. If look at basic meaning of Greek word for church you get something like gathering of the chosen or called. When we limit church to a message we miss the power of physical assembly (not saying only Sunday as 2 or 3 gathered in His name is enough). Pir community need the church not just many solo Chtistians. I still believe the church operating as a body expressing itself through all the gifts us Gods chosen method to reach world.. Totally agree its less on content and more on connection but where rubber hits the road is are we willing to have a lesser polished message with local connection when our people can hear a great message online

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