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By Paul Nickerson, CEO of Nickerson Coaching

I often hear the following comments from church leaders:

  • “When will everyone come back to in-person worship?”
  • “Is our online ministry keeping people at home, rather than in-person services?”

Both questions are predominantly raised by those over the age of 55, as most of our pastors and leaders are that age, or older. Below is some recent research on worship attendance and some reflections from me on each.

  1. Most churches are still in the 30%-60% range of pre-covid worship attendance. There are a variety of reasons for this, from health concerns, parents uncomfortable sending unvaccinated children, fringe members who have drifted away and others who prefer online worship.
  2. However, it is a myth that online worship deters from in-person worship attendance. 85% of growing churches have a strong online focus. I hear this myth a lot, as if online worship isn’t “real” worship. Many find their way to faith from online opportunities.
  3. “Everybody wants to be back in-person”. Actually, most over 55 want this, other generations, not so much. The latest polls indicate:
  • 71% of Boomers want in-person
  • 47% Gen X
  • 42% Millennials
  • 41% Gen Z

(and many parents expressed interest in a hybrid model for kids)

The reality is that younger generations have been online for years and are comfortable with digital worship and activities. Older groups, who didn’t grow up with the digital world, still emphasize in-person.

It is critical, if we really want to reach the next generations, that we start to get some younger people around the table.

If you enjoy in-person worship, great. I am not saying we shouldn’t gather like this (with all due Covid precautions). What I am saying is that if we think in-person is the end-all and be-all, we will miss reaching many people in the community.

Every church says they want “young people”. If you really do, then an increasing part of your budget, staff and time will need to be focused on digital programs and worship services. So many churches made a huge pivot in March of 2020 to begin an online journey. That journey needs to continue and needs our faithful attention.

Who should you share this data with this week?

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This article was previously published on September 29, 2021, in the Reaching New People Newsletter by Paul Nickerson from Nickerson Coaching and has been republished here with his permission.

Paul Nickerson has worked with many churches in the Desert Southwest Conference on how to reach new people. He offers a variety of trainings. If interested, contact Paul at or contact the Desert Southwest Conference department of New and Vital Faith Communities at or .

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