You’ve heard a lot about how the pandemic hurt church attendance.
Yeah. Me too. It’s true, but it’s becoming a bit tiresome.
We can watch online. We can study the Bible digitally. “Going to church” is no longer needed.
Yep, I’ve heard them too. How many times have we heard the overused pseudo-explanation, “the church is the people, not a building”? Those people are supposed to gather somewhere, and it’s usually a building.
Now, much to my own personal delight, we are seeing an incipient movement push back against the “you-don’t-have-to-attend-church-to-be-obedient-to-God” crowd. We are seeing early signs that a number of people were awakened in the pandemic to the importance of in-person community, particularly in churches.
That is why our churches need to be prepared and to be proactive for more people coming to our in-person worship services and our in-person small groups or Sunday school classes or whatever you call them.
Perhaps we can best understand the role of the local church metaphorically. Here are five of my favorites:
1. The family meal versus the individual takeout dinner. For years, families spent time around the table. They would converse with each other instead of getting a takeout meal and looking at their smartphone. It was a time where family members connected and got to know each other. It was an in-person event that took place several times a week. The disconnected family member is like the disconnected church member who no longer attends in-person for worship services and small groups.
2. A bonfire versus an electric heater. I love a bonfire on the beach. I enjoy more than the warmth on a cool night; I enjoy others in person. The setting provides those times where we can share stories, laugh, and get to know one another. The electric heater provides warmth, but it does not provide connection. It is like the digital church: functional but not personal.
3. The live concert versus streaming music. I remember the first time I heard “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrkle in a concert. I was hooked on that 60s one-hit wonder because I not only enjoyed the catchy tune, I shared the delight with others who were attending. We can listen to Christian music and hymns via digital means, but it’s nothing like singing together in-person in church in a spirit of true worship.
4. Sailing together versus watching a travel show. For one of our wedding anniversaries, I leased a small sailboat with a captain for a half-day. Being with my wife for those few hours and seeing the pure joy she experienced was incomparable to watching a television show about sailing. Worshiping together is the sailboat. Watching a digitally streaming worship service is the television travel show.
5. Live theater versus Netflix. I have been to a few Broadway shows and a few other live shows. While I appreciate the convenience of watching a chosen movie on Netflix, it is nothing like feeling and seeing the emotions of those watching a play in the room with me. Church is akin to live theater. You connect with those who are physically present. You not only hear a sermon and sing worship music, but you also worship together with others.
We are encouraged by the early indicators pointing toward a rebirth and growth of the in-person worship services and small groups. If there is a place where people should be together, it is that place of community where we worship together and enjoy one another in small groups.
This trend is one worthy of watching.
Posted on June 5, 2023
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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