On a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Levi Lusko (Pastor of Fresh Life Church) joins podcast host Carey Nieuwhof to discuss his thoughts and learnings on church attendance during the pandemic, the power of physically gathering and reaching the next generation in ministry.
On Church Attendance During the Pandemic
Recent Barna data show that 84 percent of pastors agree the trend of decreased attendance for in-person worship due to COVID-19 will have a lasting impact, even after the pandemic is over. Sitting down with Nieuwhof, Lusko encourages pastors to not focus on reduced attendance, reminding them, “God never called anyone to preach to an empty chair. Don’t look at the empty chairs. Look at the chairs that have people in them.” Lusko continues, “To get discouraged by empty chairs is to forget what we’re called to.”
Lusko sympathizes with pastors who are frustrated by diminished attendance, admitting, “I tend to get resentful at the people not there, the people online. I have to keep myself out of that.” He shares, “I need to do that work to stay humble, grateful and to stay sweet spirited… I can do my good work in the morning—journaling, devotions, saying the Lord’s prayer—to calibrate my heart before I end up in the, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ … If I can keep myself away from that, then the day turns out a lot better.”
On Reasons for Reduced Attendance
Lusko offers some of his thoughts on why attendance has remained in a lower state, even as life in the U.S. slowly moves toward a post-pandemic era. “If I was speaking with you candidly and I didn’t have a microphone in front of me, I would probably say a good amount of people never tithed,” he notes. “It’s funny to have it be so simple as that, but Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart is,’ and it’s shocking to me to have [our] tithe not get impacted at all [even after] losing 30 percent of [our] audience. It’s a shocking—but pretty clear indictment—that you have more ownership and part and parcel in these matters where you’re invested.”
On Rethinking the Model of the Church
When asked by Nieuwhof about finding a new model for church ministry given the current moment, Lusko states, “I’m not so much trying to find a new model [for the church] as to actually get back to what really is the model.” He explains, “I was in a staff meeting yesterday, and we were [reading] Acts 2:42-47 asking, what is it about bread? What is it about gathering? What is it about the table and the communion, the generosity and the growth?” Lusko continues, “It’s a formula. … I’m not trying to find a new model [for ministry] so much as saying to those who are here, ‘Let’s really go deep.’”
As the discussion comes to a close, Lusko shares a data point that has impacted the way he and his staff are engaging with the next generation.
“Billy Graham is the one who ran out the statistic [highlighting that] most decisions [to follow] Christ come before age 18. So we’re really doubling down on youth.” One of ways Lusko’s church is focusing on ministry to the next generation includes a large summer event. Lusko notes, “[The event is] going to be a revival themed. It’s going to be about evangelism. … All of it will [take place] outdoors, under the stars in the round. We’re calling it MVMNT Conference.”
He concludes, “From an energy standpoint, I’m putting all of my focus between now and August into the next generation and seeing a revival take place.”
About the Research
Pastor’s Poll: The research for this study consisted of an online study conducted July 2021 with 433 U.S. Protestant pastors. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 4.7 percent at a 95 – percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2022