Eight ways to fill your pews

August 25th, 2021

How to fill your pews has been a question since before the pandemic. It is especially compelling now.  As you think about this important question, keep in mind the following eight facts, and eight ways you can act. I encourage you to share this article with your key leaders and decision-makers so that you can discover the unique ways you will choose to fill your pews this year.

People are built for a relationship with God.

FACT: No matter what else may be true these days we are wired for God—from our brains to our nervous systems. We need opportunities to grow spiritually.

ACT: Gather people for study, prayer, encouragement, worship, and mission.

EXAMPLE: With fall coming, this is a perfect time to start a new Bible study, prayer initiative, or relationship class.

People are social.

FACT: We survived shutdowns in very creative ways. But people suffer when they are isolated for too long. We need community.

ACT: Gather folks together around common interests and needs. Be creative by weaving the spiritual into the social.

EXAMPLE: Cooking, crafts, construction, or gardening classes can not only focus on biblical themes like hunger, creativity, building, and growth—they can lend themselves to needed community-oriented projects.

Youth and young adults need friends.

FACT: Young people generally want to spend more time with friends than family. This fact reveals their deep needs to belong. But alphas and digitals don’t belong like boomers belong. Developmentally, younger folks are in the stage of exploration, questioning, pushing the edges and finding acceptance on their own terms.

ACT: Churches can fill this need by encouraging questions, cultivating discussion, and accepting differences.

EXAMPLE: Open Space is a unique format developed by my friend and colleague Rev. Mary Beth Taylor. It’s a way of forming Jesus-based community which fosters open-ended questions and discussion about matters of faith.

The pandemic has changed our habits, patterns, and  expectations.

FACT: Don’t expect people to automatically resume their 2019 habits. We have come to expect flexibility, shorter events, and online options.

ACT: Reduce the length of worship, Bible study, and class time. Focus on making things interactive, and more interesting.

EXAMPLE: My friend, Market Square Publisher Kevin Slimp, runs a Sunday school class that has grown by 33% during the pandemic. It offers both in person and hybrid attendance options and runs a mere 35 minutes.  No matter how good the conversation gets.

The digital space is busy.

FACT: You’ll need to stand out to get and keep people’s attention.

ACT: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t assume everyone gets your message in the same way. Use all channels to get your message across:  email, print, text, phone, Facebook, website, phone calls, and flyers. Regularly announce and invite people to join you.

EXAMPLE: Resurrect your snail-mail monthly newsletter. Let people know the “what, when, where, and how” of your worship, studies, and other gatherings.

The pandemic is not over.

FACT: With infections on the rise among unvaccinated populations, people need a sense of safety. You will want to ensure continuity of meeting.

ACT: Normalize mask-wearing and social distancing, as well as non-mask options. Keep your online presence alive and active. Encourage what Thom S. Rainer, author of “The Post-Quarantine Church”, calls “dual citizens” or people who comfortably inhabit both physical and virtual spaces.

EXAMPLE: Re-locate study and social groups from small classrooms to the sanctuary so people can be together and socially distance. Keep the camera rolling so others can attend online.

We don’t need buildings to be/do church.

FACT: We’ve discovered we can do without buildings.

ACT: Leverage your buildings as community assets so they don’t become the focus of inward-based congregational life once again.

EXAMPLE: Form partnerships with your community. Thom S. Rainier writes about a church that painted one of its rooms in bright colors, dubbed it The Birthday Room and offered the free space to the community. See your building as a community asset, not a church asset.

The future is surprising.

FACT: We can’t predict the future, but we can prepare ourselves.

ACT: Own your resilience. Claim God’s presence. Do away with scarcity language, and focus on abundance and enoughness. Stop saying you can’t, and practice saying, “We can.”

EXAMPLE: Now is the time to develop a bold vision, and embrace a bigger sense of God.


The world has changed. But your pews don’t need to empty out. Choose a few of these eight ways to adjust to the world, re-set your expectations, and prepare to serve God’s people. You can fill your pews!

Need some more help thinking it through? Join us for Creating a Culture of Renewal®.

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