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Is COVID to blame for church attendance? (Part 1)

It’s been a year since things first shut down in my town due to COVID. I live in Florida, so things have remained pretty open here but in the past couple months we’ve seen life get closer and closer to “normal”. Most people are no longer working from home, kids are in team sports, and friends are getting together. I’ve been hopeful with all of these things happening that the church would see an increase in attendance and service but all I’m seeing is a new level of apathy and complacency. COVID may have kept the church from meeting together for a time but the true problem lies in the hearts of its members.

It’s like we forgot what being a Christian means during the months of quarantine. Being a Christian does not mean merely believing in God, or even believing in Jesus. Being a Christian literally means to be Christ-like, to be a follower of Jesus. If we are going to be the hands and feet of Jesus, then that means we have to show up and share the gospel by our words and our actions. It means that we have to obediently chase after the things that are part of God’s will for our lives, even when it means leaving behind the things we love in this world. It means we put others before ourselves – before our comfort, our convenience, and our desires.

But we have become complacent. Some of us have played the COVID card for too long. We like having that extra time at home. We’ve grown comfortable with our leggings and messy buns. We prefer binge watching all ten seasons of Friends rather than engaging in real community. We justify our laziness by saying “I’m watching church at home online” and reassuring ourselves Jesus wouldn’t really want us to meet with others during a pandemic. I want to be clear that I’m not belittling or making fun of anyone with legitimate health concerns who should in fact stay home for their safety. However, if a mask makes you comfortable enough to go to work or send your kids to school, then it’s enough to make you comfortable to worship your Lord and Savior in the company of your brethren. If your vaccine is effective enough for you to meet up with friends for dinner, then it’s effective enough for you to serve your community. If you’re not too scared to go into stores or restaurants, then fear is a weak excuse to skip church.

Now, some of us do show up to church, we give our offering, and maybe even participate in an extra study or volunteer opportunity here and there. The sneaky thing with complacency is that it brings us to a dangerous place where we think we’re doing alright. We check off the boxes and go through the motions. But church is no longer a priority to you. Maybe you no longer feel excited about going to church, maybe your tithe becomes what is leftover instead of your “first fruits”, maybe you show up just enough so you don’t get that text from a friend, or maybe you’re no longer on the call list as a go-to person. Sooner or later, you will find that checking boxes leaves you feeling pretty empty. Complacent people make a complacent church.

Side Note: When complacency happens in the church it often looks like this:

“This is how we’ve always done it.”

“We’re already doing _____ so we don’t need to try ______.”

“We just need to get through this pandemic and then...”

“COVID has really hurt the church” (blaming circumstances vs. holding church members accountable for their inactivity)

If you have ever said something like the above statements, you are sending the message that the church doesn’t need to grow or change and that there is a limit to corporate worship and service. You are giving people a hall pass on church. Let me tell you, as a person who has been on the other end of some of those words, nothing puts out the fire in one’s soul quicker than feeling alone and unsupported by your church family.

So, what do we do? How do we fight complacency in our pursuit of following Jesus through a pandemic? I think it’s quite simple. One, show up and two, serve. Stay tuned for part two where I’ll go into more detail.

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