Using Empathy: How to Help Members Return to Church

As churches look to recover from the separation caused by the pandemic, many pastors have lamented their poor church attendance. I’ve heard pastors say things like “we’re back open but we only have a few people each week.” Some have said “our members won’t come to church but I see them everywhere else.” I’ve considered the issue and would like to suggest empathy as a nurturing way to encourage members to return to church.

Empathize with your members.
When the pandemic began there were breaking news reports about outbreaks in churches. People were getting COVID-19 at funerals, choir rehearsals, worship services, and church meetings. Every news report and list of places to avoid given by the CDC had churches at the top of the list. The prevailing implied message was “church is the most dangerous place to go.” People were conditioned to be afraid of church.

What’s worse is when the CDC began to list places that were safe to visit, they excluded the church. They told us going to nail salons, restaurants, and outdoor gatherings were safe, but they never came back to say it was alright to return to church. For some of our parishioners, church attendance is still a risk for infection. To them, attending an hour long worship service is riskier than going to eat at their favorite restaurant.

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

As pastors, it’s important to empathize with church members. Empathy says “I don’t know what you’re going through but I can imagine what it must be like.” From this perspective we can begin to care about their feelings and nurture them toward restoration instead of brow beating them with our expectations. With empathy, we can listen to their concerns and not judge them for their lack of attendance.

Empathy opens up opportunities to engage members emotionally and spiritually. Here are a few simple steps pastors and church leaders can take to show empathy to their members and nurture them to return to corporate worship.

  1. Engage every member. Phone calls, text messages, letters, email, social media, and websites are all necessary to engage every member. Become all things to all men that by all means, you might save some.
  2. Serve every member. Even if members will not attend corporate worship, find a way to serve them. Ask about their needs and point them to services to meet those needs. Pray for them and their families over the phone. Send out encouraging words and keep them encouraged.
  3. Listen to member concerns. Ask members how they’re dealing with the pandemic. Ask them how they feel about attending church. Listen to them without judging them or trying to convince them. Ask them what the church could do to make them feel safe.
  4. Employ mitigation strategies. As the pandemic lingers, the CDC and state governments are steadily lowering COVID precautions. This has lead many to lower their safety measures by doing the least required actions. Use wisdom, prayer, and the concerns of your members to employ measures that will address your church member concerns and make them feel safe. I’ve seen from personal experience how these consistently following these steps has slowly increased the attendance of our church members. I pray they will help you as well.

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