In an era when innovation and adaptation are needed, many struggle to break free of old thinking patterns. No matter what we do, our congregations drift back to familiar, settled ways of doing things. It’s time to drop beneath the surface of our actions and challenge outdated assumptions that sustain the status quo.
This fall many congregations are trying to assess their level of health and vitality. Leaders wonder why some people have returned and re-engaged, and others have not. Some congregations did well in the pandemic, while others seemed to lose all of the air out of their balloons. One large-church pastor said, “I feel like I am leading a very different congregation than the one I was serving back in 2019.” While Covid still spreads, folks have moved on with their lives. Church is back in business, but it is still a perplexing time.
As I talk with pastors, it is clear that many of them are not going back to their pre-Covid time schedules. They are reallocating time spent on worship, education, governance, mission, and administration to align with new, post-Covid realities. Some are doing this intentionally; others are just winging it. As a rule, intentionality will bring better results than winging it!
For a long time, clergy have taken credit when attendance rose and felt guilty when it fell. Most people assume that the best measure of a congregation’s spiritual vitality is the headcount at weekly worship. But some congregations have begun to think beyond that metric and focus more broadly about how their ministry transforms lives. As a result, they’re finding new ways to think about worship, vitality and effectiveness.
“I only have my son every other weekend and he doesn’t like church, so I don’t come those Sundays.”
This is the voice of a church member attending a committee planning session I recently led. She was clearly an active member, committed enough to the life of her congregation to spend 4½ hours talking on a gorgeous late summer Sunday when she could have been outside playing. But, as you can see, she only attends church every other Sunday at best. For her and many others, Sunday morning church attendance no longer is a primary identifier of active membership. It is now just one way among many of being active, and for some it may even not be important at all.