About the only good news is that only 5% of churchgoers switched churches during the pandemic and only 3% changed churches because of moving. There has been a large number of church hoppers among Protestants and perhaps the pandemic will slow it down. We will see. The bad news is that although some congregations will trim back their online services as the situations change, most congregations will continue the hybrid model. Some of them are convinced that their impact is greater with online -- especially if they think they have a new or different audience for their online offerings. Perhaps the online contributions from their viewers will sway their decision to keep the hybrid model or the lack of that financial support encourage them to go back to in person only. We will see.
One thing is sure. The pandemic will not help and will probably speed up the decline Protestant congregations are already experiencing. I am not sure what this will mean for Lutherans. We are not quite Protestants (like Baptists or mainline) but that has not made us immune to the same kind of numbers decline. In the end, a lot will depend upon what people are returning to -- a memory they are trying to recreate, the same old preference driven style emphasized worship of the past, or a compelling sense of God's presence speaking through the Scriptures and sermon and bestowing His grace in the Sacraments of confession, baptism, and the Eucharist. If people are to return and remain there, the only thing that will draw them permanently is their awareness of and anticipation for the efficacious words and gifts of Christ. Anything else will not be strong enough or dependable enough to keep them there. What we should learn is that technology, borrowing worship styles from others, and constantly changing what happens on Sunday morning is not a strong enough glue to hold our folks. They need nothing less than to know and rejoice in the God whose presence bestows the riches of the grace and favor won by Christ's obedient life, life-giving death, and triumphant resurrection. It will require that the preacher learn to speak again the strong language of Scripture in addressing sin and death with the forgiveness and life that we have received in Christ. And, it will need the congregations to focus on what happens on Sunday morning -- for if this is not the source and summit of the life of God's people, nothing else good will follow. And if we do all of this and the Church still declines, then it is God's will and not our well-intentioned but flawed efforts that will have killed it.