The church blogger: What’s bringing those familiar faces back to church?
You may have noticed it, too. One familiar face that you hadn’t seen in such a long time at First UU, and you were curious. Then enough returnees that you’re thinking it might be a trend. And then you saw three people at a service that you were afraid would never come back, and you squealed with delight!
Having been a returnee after a long absence and knowing that the second go-round can be a very gratifying experience, I asked a number of former attendees what was bringing them back to church.
Melanie left in 2004 and tried out a number of different churches, but none of them felt like home. At First UU, she doesn’t have to live up to perceived expectations. Now that she’s retired, she’s finding so many opportunities to be involved including singing in the choir and facilitating Date with Death and the Social Action Circle.
Roxanne and David were attending First UU back in the 20th century (yes, that line was fun to write), but jobs and distance meant there came a time we didn’t see them much. We see them more often now that they’re retired and working on Lee Kinsey’s house (Roxanne’s mother). They told me it feels like coming home. They enjoy being with like-minded people and look forward to hearing Rev. Michelle speak.
Millie had to leave when her husband’s numerous health problems made her presence at Sunday morning worship impossible. After her husband’s death, she came back because we are “her people.” She loves being part of the choir.
Justin showed up again because he’s a new father and wants to instill UU values in the life of his five-month-old daughter. He came to check out the environment for babies and found all the ways we support children in whole worship.
John had previously served as our choir director. When he heard that Emily had left the position, he thought, “Maybe I should just come back.” He knew what the job was like, and he has fun adapting the music to the particular talents that show up to sing.
Roland and Sharon came back because of the need for community. “It seemed like it was time.”
My story of absence and return? I attended First UU with my first husband and three children for about ten years in the 80’s and 90’s. After I divorced, I attended The Church of the Brethren, the denomination I grew up in. I married a man who had only known the Methodist church for his entire life so we became members at Schweitzer Methodist. When my husband met a number of First UU members at Rebecca’s milestone birthday party, he consented to visit First UU. Our first service together featured John’s Dixieland band which was another layer of convincing. I keep coming back because of First UU’s active support of social justice causes.
Attendance figures confirm that we are enjoying a resurgence in attendance when other churches are struggling to bring people back. In January of this year, I asked Rev. Michelle to comment on church attendance, and she responded, “I’m excited about both our church attendance, and the levels of enthusiastic engagement in our programs! …Our average attendance in the first 2 1/2 months of 2020, before the world shifted, was 64. In the last 6 months of 2022, we had an average of 50 attending Sunday services with a few high days around 67. That’s 78% of pre-pandemic attendance. Surveys of protestant churches show that the best percentages of return are about 85%. All of this to say, I spend a lot of time in, or in conversation with, quite a few churches, and comparatively, First UU is in a great position to continue in its growth and impact in our community!”
Here’s our joyous update: The average attendance at First UU in 2023 now stands at 67, surpassing our pre-pandemic average! Four of those Sundays, we recorded attendance highs of 76, 80, 80, and 88.
What keeps you coming back? Be sure to tell your friends.
Article by Colleen Appel, Director of Communications at First UU
Do you have a question you’d like to see answered in this space? Contact Colleen at firstname.lastname@example.org