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5 ways to reach those who stopped attending worship services

Thom Rainer headshot

It’s a challenge that has been around for decades, but it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Members who were once active have stopped attending worship. 

Indeed, some of the most frequent questions we get at Church Answers are related to this issue. How can we get those who stopped attending to return? What is the best approach? Is it worth our effort or is it a lost cause? 

To be blunt, these members are indeed hard to get back. Once they left, they established new patterns and habits, and church was not one of them. Some of them may not be Christians; they attended worship to be accepted or to please someone.

But, biblically, we must not give up on the one who has gone astray. Evangelistically, we have an opportunity to keep the gospel before them. Even if the efforts are difficult, they can really make a difference.

As we hear from church leaders around the world, we are listening carefully to some of the most effective approaches to reach those who have left. These are five approaches that are used by a number of churches.

  1. Call them once. Yes, it can be that simple. One pastor took a Sunday afternoon and called twelve persons representing twelve families. He simply told them that he missed them and hoped they would return. He then prayed for them. Three of the twelve families returned within a month.
  2. Pray for them. Many churches have prayer ministries, and some of them have intentional prayer for those who have dropped out of church. One church makes it a point to send a “we prayed for you” email once every other month. The emails are personal and written specifically to the person who is no longer attending.
  3. Keep them on a separate email list. One church leader explained it this way. You don’t put them on the email list you send to all members. They would recognize they are on a list that everyone gets; they would not be motivated to return with this approach. Instead, have someone craft an email that addresses these people specifically and pastorally.
  4. Be aware of points of need for these people. A pastor in Ohio shared that he finds someone who has a personal relationship with the member who is no longer attending. He asks the active member to let him know when the inactive member has a specific need to which the church can respond. One family of seven returned to his church when several people ministered to them when the primary breadwinner lost his job.
  5. Stay in touch with the children of the family. When a family stops attending, many church leaders said they had success getting the children or youth to attend specific activities. One student minister reported success especially when their peers invite them to an event.

There is nothing new about church dropouts. But the rate of dropout accelerated during the pandemic and was exacerbated by it. Yes, it is not usually easy to get people back in the discipline of gathering as a church. 

But God continues to work in many churches and in the lives of those who dropped out. 

He has not given up on them. Neither should we.

Originally published at Church Answers 

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Rainer has written over 30 books, including three that reached number one bestseller: I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, and Simple Church. His new book, The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation, is available now.

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