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Apathy: Why it's hit the Church and how to break out of it

“I’m managing each week as they come. I don’t have the energy to think further out.”

The pastor was struggling to regain his passion, and he was expressing frustration with himself. He is self-aware enough to recognize his apathy. At the same time, he was unsure how to move forward from the malaise.

The problem of apathy has hit churches. Both leaders and congregants are struggling to move forward following the pandemic. A general lack of enthusiasm is defining the culture of many churches right now. What’s going on?

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Broken rhythms tend to discourage excitement. When I broke my leg last year, I was no longer able to work out regularly. It affected my psyche. When someone misses several days in a row of a Bible reading plan, discouragement sets in. The pandemic broke a lot of regular church rhythms with people. It’s hard to build excitement with broken rhythms.

The spiritual discipline of evangelism is largely absent from congregations. This reality was present before the pandemic. But it is exacerbated now. When people lose sight of the main thing, a church’s sense of purpose evaporates.

Attendance frequency continues to get worse. The person who once attended every other week is now attending one out of four weeks. Momentum stalls when people do not gather frequently. When people are absent from church, they direct their passions to other endeavors.

Church leaders are both tired and confused. You can be exhausted but have clarity on what to do. When you lack clarity, exhaustion pulls you back to the status quo. A lot of pastors have no energy and no direction right now.

Survival mode has turned into maintenance mode. A flurry of activity was required during the pandemic just to stay afloat. It seemed as if major decisions were needed every day. Then the chaos settled, and everyone took a much-needed breath. But many pastors and leaders fell back into maintenance mode after being in survival mode for so long. Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon, so it’s understandable why many churches and leaders are simply maintaining.

Now is the time to start breaking the apathy cycle. One way to kickstart energy in the church is by re-emphasizing your membership class. As churches recover from the pandemic, unfortunately, the membership class is often one of the last things to return.

A culture of high expectations begins with a membership class. Think of each membership class as a new wave of aligned expectations washing into the church. Over time, each new group of people coming into the church help build the culture of high expectations.

New members bring energy into the church. I guess it’s possible to join a church with a sullen attitude. Most new members, however, tend to bring excitement and anticipation when they join the church.

Leaders are reinvigorated by equipping new members. How can you break out as a leader? Start by investing in new people. By design, this investment will challenge you to do new things. Each new person is an opportunity to think about discipleship in a fresh way.

New members have the potential to reintroduce evangelism. One of the best ways to encourage your church to restart evangelism is through new members. Channel their excitement about the church into an evangelism emphasis. Likely, new members will ignite passion in longstanding members as well.

Apathy is a common occurrence in churches right now, both with leaders and congregants. It’s an understandable problem given what most churches have experienced the last two years. But now is the time to break out of it.

Originally published at Church Answers.

Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida. 

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