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A Strong Word for Some of My Pastor Friends

I’ve got a strong word for some of my pastor friends. I might be late to saying this and would love not to have to be someone to say it. Yet, I feel I must to be faithful to my blog audience.

They aren’t coming back. 

Some of the people you keep hoping you will see back on Sunday mornings simply aren’t going to return. At least for now. 

Truth is they are comfortable. They can watch online. You’ve done a great job of keeping them semi-engaged. The way they choose to participate with you is now convenient for their new lifestyle. 

Please understand, I’m not blessing it. I would never pretend this is all church is supposed to be. I know Hebrews 10:24-25 well. In fact, I’ve read it in each major version of the Bible. It says the same thing. We are not to forsake gathering together as a people of God. The gathered church is an essential and commanded part of the Church. 

I am simply facing reality. Because like many other problems we face in life – until we admit it, call it what it is and put it in the context of current reality we can’t really do anything to address it. 

Once we realize some of these people aren’t going to return we can quit bellyaching and get to work. We can begin to ask ourselves better questions. 

Questions such as: What are we gonna do about it now? How are we going to keep making disciples of people we might not see as regularly in person? 

The problem with refusing to accept this reality is it wastes energy and morale. Instead of investing in the people who have returned and people you haven’t even reached yet, we worry about those who have for all practical purposes chosen “another church”. Or at least another form of church. 

What can we do now? Well, for this one I would refer to other church practitioners. I’ve seen some good suggestions online from people like my friends Thom Rainer or Carey Nieuwhof

But I think we should be thinking along the lines of: 

  • Equip people where they are to grow as disciples. 
  • Provide opportunities for those people who may never attend. 
  • Embrace new people who are coming. 
  • Try to think like an outsider thinks.
  • Consider people important in your ministry that might attend randomly if at all.

Basically, things we should or could have been doing all along. 

As an example, I’m thinking of my former church, where I’m now serving as an interim teaching pastor. They have an over 50-year old television ministry. For years, far more people have watched the services than attended them every week. But when I served as pastor I prayed, thought and planned far more for the people in the room than I did the television audience. I’m not saying that was bad, but the pandemic has made me realize we probably had some missed opportunities. 

So, a better question for that church today – How can we better engage a television audience that may never attend in person – and help them grow as disciples of Christ? 

Again, I know it is a strong word, pastor friends. I still hope some of the people I’m missing return, but even more I’m hoping I think bigger and better about Kingdom issues today than I did two years ago. 

We will be recording some new podcast episodes soon. Catch up on the previous episodes HERE. Is there any specific leadership topic you would like us to cover?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Michael Rowe says:

    There other reasons for not attending. As a carer, you can only move at the speed of your loved one. That means you can be late io service. Also lack of a disabled toilet can be a barrier.

  • J says:

    I choose to use internet only because I have immune deficiency. “Christians” being stubborn and selfish, refusing to do simple task of putting others first in love and care and keeping them safe is what keeps me away. I miss church and I would love to go back, if it were a safe environment. I realize there are some still there who care, but those who don’t ruin it for all of us.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I certainly support that decision. And we've had shut-in ministries (old tape ministries) for years for reasons such as this. Each person has to make up their own mind here. But I do think there are many not returning because of a change in lifestyle/convenience – not specifically for health reasons.

      Thanks for commenting and praying for your continued health. And that you find some way to fill the void this has created in your life.

  • Ron, I feel you on this. Seeing our pastoral staff wrestle with the issue of people not coming back to an in-person gathering is difficult. They struggle with the new reality. Yet, I don't think it is all doom and gloom either.
    I hope you don't mind me sharing a couple of thoughts on the article. It's great but I wonder if we could look at the verse you shared in a different light. Hebrews 10:24-25 talks about the gathering of the saints. If we create an engaging, captivating online experience, could this also be considered a gathering of the saints? I have found many great online communities where we "gather" online. These relationships have been long-lasting and impactful.
    Another thought is that an online audience isn't the same as a television audience. There are opportunities for them to become engaged and equipped. For online attendees, find ways to get them involved with interacting with those attending online. Have an "online greeter" or have them share the live stream with their friends. Maybe you create a follow-up team that reaches out to those that made themselves known during the service.
    I think there are plenty of ways to engage and pique the interest of those watching online. We just have to be wise enough to figure it out.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Good thoughts. I don’t know if I’m 100% there on the online gathering being in line with the Hebrews passage but I’m certainly closer than I would have been 2 years ago. Certainly we have new opportunities to engage people we never have.

      My point with the television audience wasn’t to say it was the same as online. It was that I wasn’t intentional enough with the opportunity. But we did have lots of followers who considered us “their church” but never attended in person. My focus was more on getting them to attend than engaging them where they were.

      Thanks again.

  • Hey Ron! My wife and i have been talking about this a lot lately. My heart aches for friends who haven't come back. But I have had to accept that it is not me. I have committed myself to trying to stay in touch with them through email, text, or cards just to let them know I love them. But I am moving on to ministering to those who still do. Good words today.