Dear friends in Christ,
A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend from one of the larger Episcopal congregations, and she told me they’d recently had a zoom class to welcome 48 (!) new members. I was astounded. And then I started hearing lots of reports from all across the country of new members joining churches, even though their encounter with the church has been through online worship only.
As I thought about it, I realized it makes sense. This time of year is one that often brings seekers and, potentially, new members to churches. Why should it be different just because most churches are not meeting in person? People are still hungry for connection with God and with their neighbors.
A Pew Research Center survey found that about a quarter of Americans had experienced a stronger faith during the pandemic. My own anecdotal experience suggests that there is a growing hunger for encounter with scripture during this time. In other words, perhaps this time of upheaval is pushing people to examine what’s important. Maybe this is a natural time for people to seek participation in a church community. Might the sacrifices of this time of pandemic invite connections to the costly discipleship to which our Lord Jesus invites us?
Outdoor Sunday service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Portsmouth, RI
I mention all this because I think some church leaders have concluded that the pandemic must be a time of retrenchment, not growth. That’s probably the right posture in some congregations. But in many others, this could be be a fruitful time of numerical and spiritual growth.
Now, before I suggest some ways to nurture growth, I want to acknowledge that the pandemic is exhausting for many leaders. There are good physiological reasons for this. If you are a leader who cannot imagine anything beyond survival, please know that getting through this time is more than sufficient. Also know that others can help you and support you.
That said, if you and your church have the capacity for some new things, this could be a time of growth.
- This is a good time to start or expand or rethink online education and formation offerings, especially Bible studies.
- With more engagement online, have a look at your website. Is your information updated for current practices—and does it also give a sense of what practices were like before the pandemic (that is, what folks might expect in the future)?
- Instead of greeters in the back of the church, maybe you need to commission online greeters who can notice new faces in online worship and in classes, and make connections to invite your guests to know more about your church.
- Do you have a way to incorporate new members now?
- Can you equip your current members to invite others to join your church? In some ways, it’s easier to invite someone to “come to church” now, because seekers can explore your church from the comfort of their couch.
Of course, I don’t know the context of your local church, and I don’t know how you and your church’s lay leaders and clergy are doing. Getting through this pandemic might be plenty. But if you’re up for growth, every sign I’m seeing says it’s possible now.
Our world sometimes seems like it’s spinning out of control. Now more than ever, people need what the church has to offer: the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a community of disciples who follow a way of justice, hope, love, compassion, mercy, and grace.
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