When this pandemic began back in 2020, nobody seemed quite what to make of it. There was so much fear and so many unknowns, isolating ourselves seemed to be the only logical conclusion. Most churches, even if for a short period of time, moved services to online only, allowing people to worship God from their homes. This period of isolation went from two weeks to several months and, in some churches, two years now.
Now, many people are vaccinated, the news is saying that the variants are getting less severe, and it seems, at least in my area, that the flu is just as prevalent. The pandemic seems to be coming to a close (At least somewhat), so everything will go back to normal, right? Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. Many church members and church workers across the country sit, frustrated, in church, looking at all the empty pews. In fact, according to the Institute for Family Studies (2021), an astounding 57% of people reported that they seldom or never attend church anymore. That is up from right around 50% in 2019. Only 28% reported attending at least a couple times per month. These unbelievable numbers are discouraging for church leaders as well.
So, what do we do to get people, especially young people, back in church?
Keep Your Communications Positive
You want these people back in the pews, and it is important to let them know this. However, if you are speaking to them judgmentally, you could push them away for good. Also, remember that teens likely don’t make the decision on worshiping in person. If you only see a teen in church intermittently, you can’t automatically know if they need to hear law or gospel. A dismissive tone or a statement such as: “We haven’t seen you here for a while,” or “Nice of you to join us” could make it harder for someone to return to regular worship. You might think nothing of such comments, but it could be what that person takes away from that Sunday. Nobody needs extra reasons not to come to church on a given week.
Make sure to stay positive and offer grace. If you see a teen who hasn’t been in church for a while, invite them to sit by you, especially if the rest of their family isn’t there with them. We want each member to remember that they are still a part of the family even if we know how important prioritizing in-person worship every week is. God can use your friendly gesture to help convince this person that they miss church enough to start coming again!
Keep Reaching Out
If you haven’t seen a teen in worship for a while, try shooting them a text asking them if they have any prayer requests. Or, simply ask them how they are doing. You may not know how things are going in their home. Reach out to them over and over, even if you don’t immediately get a response. Ask good questions and listen for things going on in their hearts and their lives that might be keeping them from regular worship.
You can also ask other youth to reach out to their friends who they haven’t seen back at church. Support youth who are reaching out and remind them God will use them in pointing their friends back to the importance of their faith life. Remember to build a bridge between them and the church, not a wall.
You want teens to be regularly in worship. The question is: why? It isn’t just because we want better attendance numbers. Nobody wants to be just a name on a checklist of people who aren’t coming to church. You want them in church because that is where they hear the Word of God. It is where they receive the Means of Grace. It is where they get God’s good gifts and are given belonging!
Don’t be afraid to read from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. The church needs ALL of its members, including those who haven’t been coming. Church isn’t the same without them, and they need to hear that. It’s important to find ways to express the critical value of worship while being open and welcoming.
Remember, if you don’t communicate how important this person is to you and to God (Especially youth), they will feel like they are just a name on a list. If you are just contacting them to get it out of the way, teens are going to be able to tell. Instead, allow God to work through you in expressing the incredible importance of worship and what God gives to a young person in that time. Remember to treat each person like a friend or family member. Treat them with respect and compassion, like both they and our time in God’s Word in worship are a priority.
Here is a prayer for anyone tasked with this difficult conversation:
Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessing of your Word and Sacrament given to us in your Church. Please help me to remember that I am an important part of the body of Christ and help me to communicate this fact with those who have stopped attending. Give me the courage and compassion to have this conversation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.