As we anticipate re-opening our churches, we have changed, and our congregation has changed. Do you remember how things changed when you or your children changed away to college and came home again?
As you reflect on how things have changed, here are three things you may wish to consider as you plan for the re-opening of your church:
- The joys and sorrows people have experienced during the pandemic.
We were created to laugh and cry with each other in person. During the pandemic some people have lost loved ones, lost jobs, or have been unable to pursue their dreams. They have had to go through the grief process alone, or online without physical contact. Other people have finished milestones – graduating from high school, college, university, or seminary. Others have gotten married, celebrated wedding anniversaries, births, and birthdays without having the opportunity to celebrate these once in a lifetime milestones. Others have experimented with gardening, cooking, exploring nature, reading or a plethora of other hobbies and have stories to tell, but they have had nobody to tell their stories to. Others have sat alone, doom-scrolling through social media and becoming more and more afraid and lonely.
How can your church facilitate opportunities for people to laugh, weep and share stories together in God’s presence?
- Christian Service.
There are some people in your congregation who have spent the last year in a holding pattern, waiting for the day that your church reopens so that they can serve God through the programs of your local church. Conversely there will be other people, who used to serve in your church who have moved on. There will be people who are now either serving in other venues or have chosen not to serve in the same way in their local church.
This is a tremendous opportunity for you to formulate and teach a theology of Christian service. Are good followers of Christ only those who serve in the local church?
This is also an opportunity for you as leaders to model your faith in God to your congregation. Can God advance his Kingdom even though you are not able to run a program that your church has done for many years? Some people in your congregation have had to give up successful business practices or have lost their businesses because of the pandemic. They will be watching you, as a leader, to see how you handle these situations in your church. Although they may never verbalize this, they will be asking what difference faith in God makes when programs have to be cancelled or staff have to be let go due to lack of resources or budgetary constraints.
- Those who have joined and those who no longer attend your church.
During this pandemic season while your church was online, God will have brought people to watch your church online who are not familiar names and faces. Some of these people may choose to visit you on a Sunday morning, others may choose to continue to watch online. What sort of things can you do to make them part of your community?
There will also be people who God brought to your church prior to the pandemic who have chosen not to attend virtually, and who may choose not to return to attend a physical church service. There are many reasons for this. One of these is that as a result of the pandemic many of the boundaries that used to exist in life no longer exist. (i.e., The boundary between school and work; the boundary of office hours.) Without these boundaries for some people there is no longer a place for church activities in their life. In other words for some people instead of their faith in God permeating all of life (whole life discipleship), work or school now permeates all of life.
How will you continue to engage, equip, and encourage these people whom God entrusted to you, who choose not to return to your Sunday services?
There are no easy answers to these questions. However, seeking the answers to these questions, is a demonstration of your firm convictions that God is the source of all wisdom, that God’s wisdom calls out at the city gates and that God will abundantly provide the wisdom you need without finding fault (Prov 8; James 1:5; James 3:13-17)
As a leader, when you face with honesty and humility the temptations that these questions bring — temptations of doubt, temptations of fear, temptations of inadequacy, temptations to trust in yourself and lean on your own understanding — you model for your congregation the truth that God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear and will provide a way out so you can endure it (1 Cor 10:13).
As your church reopens, through your leadership, will you model for your congregation how to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, where each one of us may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb 4:14-16)?
A final warning – affluenza.
Having survived the pandemic; having glorified God and hallowed God’s name by the way you have reopened your church; the greatest risk you and your congregation may face is the fatal spiritual pandemic of affluenza. After all, who needs God when we can once again enjoy all the pleasures of Vanity Fair?
May the grace of our Lord continue to be poured out on you abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus … May your church continue to bring honor and glory to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God. Amen. (1 Tim 1:14, 17).