The well-known expert in church planting, revitalization, and trends in Christian missiology, Dr. Ed Stetzer, was a recent guest on Church Now Conversations (view here). Dr. Stetzer reflected on ministry in a post-COVID world and suggested that membership in most congregations can be divided into thirds. The first third is more engaged than before the pandemic. The second third moved from participants to observers. The final third went from somewhat engaged to disengaged. They simply have fallen off the congregational map.
Stetzer said that the time has now come for churches to make their very best effort at reengaging the disengaged by intentionally clarifying why in-person participation is essential for a thriving spirituality. His encouragement is a timely reminder. Renewal leaders should reengage the disengaged. Still, to engage the disengaged demands distinguishing between various types of disengaged so appropriate strategies can be deployed.
Here Are Types of Disengaged Persons and How to Reengage them:
The Disgusted disengaged when mask mandates led to ugly feuds in the church. They saw the church at her worst and decided they were done with it. Reengaging the disgusted demands an apology tour saying, “We could have done better. We are better. Join us as we begin again.”
Doubters once saw the church as essential for a full life. After months of disconnection, they’re no longer convinced. Reengaging doubters demands “taste and see” opportunities so they can experience, again, what they once loved and valued but have, of late, forgotten.
The Disconnected disengaged with no particular ill-will. Prior to the pandemic, they got up on Sundays and headed off to church. The pandemic broke that habit. The disconnected need a church going friend to reinvite them and say, “I’ll look for you this Sunday.”
The Distanced lost their church-based friendships. They still watch on-line but don’t feel the pull of relationships that once provided a compelling reason to attend. Reengaging the distanced demands reestablishing a relational network (e.g., an invitation to a small group).
The Distracted disengaged because of the busyness of life including weekend work schedules, recreational activities or family obligations. The distracted need schedule friendly opportunities beyond Sunday mornings. The “Public Reading of Scripture” movement is one option.
Dreamers dream of returning but became comfortable watching on-line or no longer feel a passion for their former congregation. Dreamers should be reminded of the value of in-person gatherings and encouraged, if necessary, to explore other congregational options.