The Returning Church
Though it is clearly apparent why Christians have not attended church in a building these last two years, is it just as apparent to church leaders, that some will not return. Is there something missing that could mobilize an enthusiastic return?
To analyze why some Christians are hesitant to join congregations once more, let’s observe some of the reasons why they left. George P. Wood, in his article, suggests there are six reasons why.[i]
The obvious first reason is the Pandemic. Mandatory shutdowns and strict distancing and masking rules kept congregants hunkering down at home. Many tuned into online services to stay connected and receive spiritual guidance. Those attendees who are still hesitant about safety are preferring to stay home and continue the online services. This “splitting” of the congregation creates inertia, a sort of energy stealer that is felt not only by those returning to in-person church, but by those who observe online. It is almost a feeling of apathy or resolve to a lesser experience, a feeling of detachment. Those in the congregation that did not already have strong relationships with others in the church or a strong commitment to a ministry responsibility, can be left floating aimlessly. Some will church shop and others will just stop caring. Somewhere the value of going to church has been lost.
We can quote “where two or more are gathered” (Matthew 18:20) and “let us not neglect meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) but is that enough primer to start the return engine? Does “in church” have real value? Providing for creature comforts, i.e., coffee bars and BBQ’s may be a tool for bringing the curious, but real ministry and discipleship and worship should focus on Christ. When all the periphery is stripped off, there stands Christ. The value is the relationship with Christ and other Christians.
The secret to church ministry may be nurturing individuals to not partake of church but realize they are the church. Though being the church should not be a state of anonymity. “We cannot “be” the church if we don’t “go” to church. Not fully, anyway.[ii] Where does the recovering church begin with rebuilding their congregation? How can restructuring programming and worship entice people back and create value? By recognizing the trauma which people have experienced the last 18 months, churches can begin to develop programming that serves recovery and mental health. More, “individual centered”.
There is a very different mindset to those who are powered by their relationship with Christ over consuming “church” from the back row. That transformation comes from evangelistic preaching and teaching, small group studies in the word and accountability and counseling. Those “two or more gathered” in worship is the heart of Christianity. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) There is no time in recent history that we see more of old things passing and new things beginning. May the Christian church strive to minister and disciple to the new creations in us and may we return to gathering, with the new resolve and motivation to continue to heal in church.
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