These are trying times for all organisations, big establishments, locally and internationally. The church is no exception.
The church has been a second home to many including my very self. It is a place of refuge, a place of succour, refreshing and encouragement to us Christians. It is a home away from home, a place to rejoice, shout out in praise and adoration to the king of kings or Lord Jesus Christ. Then came the monster called Corona – Virus (COVID-19) with its agents of social distancing, face masks, gloves and all that makes people look like the monster coronavirus itself. Following that is the total lockdown and everyone locked up inside their different homes and those who can, were working and worshiping from their homes. Things changed for everyone with social distancing, washing of hands 100 times a day and all that came with it became the norm – the new normal, they called it. This was on for several months and people became very comfortable in this kind of setting – especially that of doing everything from home including online services. I once heard someone say, whatever you commit to for 21 days, you will master. The lockdown was nearly a year so you can imagine the comfort of the new normal; wake up, wash, eat, computer to carry on the day’s work whatever that was. Unfortunately, not everyone bought into this 100%. After a gradual easing of the lockdown, it then became obvious that people are now used to staying at home and doing things from home. What happened after this, was that people are no longer interested in seeing each other in church, self-isolation became the new normal even when it is obvious that there is no more lock down. We have all been conditioned to function like this for the past nearly two years and now things have changed again and reverting to the old normal by meeting in person now becomes an uphill task.
What we have been used to
For years, the model of church function has been one of gathering and encouraging:
- small group meetings (called prayer meetings and fellowship groups)
- volunteer teams made into different departments
- Many other relational environments to encourage discipleship
Unfortunately, the pandemic has brought about a turnaround in all of these as we were all locked in and hence having to investigate other ways of functioning.
How does this affect the church?
So, lock down is over, Pastors and Ministers are fired up to come back to church but are the people willing? But even when you’ve worked out all the official details, encouraging people to come back to the physical church service will became an uphill task.
You will have members who, for one reason or another, are not ready to physically re-engage with church services. And to be brutally honest, many of your people will have gotten used to simply not attending. One of the most obvious effect of the monster COVID on the church, is dwindled number of attendance and commitment of members.
Then there are people in the community, the people you were trying to reach before COVID, and the people you’re still trying to invite. It was difficult connecting with this audience last year 2020 when covid was all high but now it’s an even bigger challenge because people have become comfortable with the way things were.
So, this is what the stake is, with a carefully constructed reopening plan in place, about to embark on one of your biggest challenges: asking people to come back to church. This is is what the discussion is all about. There is need to look at some practical suggested ideas and steps you can follow to grow your church again.
How do we get people to come back to church?
The most important thing first is to remember what your mission and vision are in the first place; the what and the why. What is your vision and mission for your church? Go back and have a look. What are the goals and targets you have put in place to achieve your vision for your church? Let these drive you and give you the strength to move on regardless of whatever is happening out there.
Remember, people will always be people. They see what you are doing, the passion with which you are driving your vision and they know its about them and not about you. Do you have the hunger to bring people together, make them see what they enjoy from being together, the fellowship, the warmth, the welcoming environment, their safety ensured (even though there is really nothing to fear), but as I said, people will always be people?
However, following the above suggestion, do please have a vibrant welcoming team in place. Make people so welcome that they will feel there is no better place to be than their church gathering – because as you know – unto Him shall our gathering forever be. This is one of things that make us different from animals and we need to appreciate these social characteristics of we humans especially those of us of the household of faith. There is positive energy that comes to individuals from us gathering. Emphasise this in your welcoming.
Remember, a burning coal separated from a bunch of burning coals dies quickly or even turn to ashes while the bunch keep burning and giving fire energy to one another. Make coming back to church a big thing for every individual. Celebrate, celebrate, and celebrate but be careful, do not overdo it. Moderation in all things is good. Make them know that we are stronger together.
With the above said, if people are not ready to return to a large physical church service, we need to consider other certain things. There is need to devise and execute some strategy to reach them.
To overcome this state of mind it requires new thinking, a new approach, and even maybe consider some new leaders in new roles. This may be necessary as people may be a bit complacent about things after the lock. This should be done with great wisdom and consideration of a lot of things.
Also know that it is possible to reach people without a big Sunday morning service acting as the front door. To start building your church after the pandemic; reach out to people even more. Be ready to undertake the uphill battle of encouraging people to come back to church.
The way it was in the middle of the pandemic was that people have enjoyed watching the livestreams from home while making breakfast, dinner or lunch depending on what time church meets. One can make several trips to the kitchen for a cuppa while online service is on. It is so comfortable and guess what, I was one of them though I miss a lot of things about going to church on Sunday morning, but it’s been alright. It is very essential that we also that gathering for services and small groups has been so helpful to our spiritual life, and it hasn’t been the same since the online meetings started. I just strongly felt we are missing out things that are essential to life – human interactions.
Guess what, children miss out on meeting up with their friends too. First, I guess one may want to start with the kids if truly you do need to grow your church after this pandemic and all that came with it. In the welcoming, invites or ministrations (in any capacity), focus on kids, youths and the old and make them a priority. In this too, emphasise the importance of one another through interaction as the very essence of our living as humans Kids have always been a driving factor for adults being involved in church. Many people feel this way too. That’s why when you’re ready to go big with asking everyone to come back, make it about the kids. Lean into language that emphasizes the importance of kids. Lean into the relationships that have been put on the back burner for too long. Reaching out to kids bring families into focus. Emphasise on families when you reopen, this is your best bet, and it does work as proven. Focus on your options for families and their kids, even at the expense of adult programming. Some churches have opted for reopening and creating environments only for kids, students, and youth, using all of the facilities to provide more space to distance.
Growing your church would also involve community and so you may want to focus on community. Remember your family and kids are from the community. In doing this, be aware of what the pandemic / lockdown may have done to the mental state of individuals and families. Being oblivious of this is dangerous. Statistics have shown that a lot of people are worse off even this year 2021 than they did last year. The worst hit group are marital status and income, the bedrock of a community. On the contrary, people who attend church are more vibrant, relational, and overcoming all odds and are getting on well. Empathy, sympathy and addressing these issues with and or in a community setting would draw people to you and the church you represent. As you do this, you may want to address the need for weekly meetings in church; the communal nature of church gatherings. Church isn’t just where we worship…it’s where we worship together. Church isn’t just where we pray…it’s where we pray together.
When you invite everyone back to church, focus on the relationships—not the sermon or the Bible Studies. Relationships are some of the things people have been missing. That’s what people are craving for. Remember the bible says “forsake not the gathering of the children of God” “Iron sharpeneth iron” etc and every encouraging word you can mortar. Use language like “we can’t wait to see you face to face” or “we’ve missed you.” Work hard and leave space for creating human connections, friendship and relationship that last beyond church.
There are already a lot of content online in terms of sermons and other biblical content, zbut people need more of relational kind of talk than sermons and all that go with it. The focus here is bringing people back to church after the pandemic. The sermons, the studies, the songs, and the services will naturally kick in as you see your people come back to church in leaps and bounds.
With the community do things differently and do remember to emphasise that no matter how many zoom calls or FaceTimes we do, it’s not really good enough. There’s something special that happens when the body of Christ gathers. Make your re-gathering plan about the people, not the programs.
Thirdly, develop a communication plan. When you’re ready to start gathering, some people—your raving fans—will be first in line to walk through the doors. However, it’s going to take a lot more effort to convince the masses.
Use announcement emails and some social media posts for as long as possible (six months or more). You need a long-term communication plan that addresses all the facets of re-opening, from safety protocols to inspiration.
In the communication plan, consider using all the channels starting with emails. This would be good if you have a rich data base of your members. Think through an entire email campaign, focusing on different angles in each message.
Then expand to all the social media channels, video, testimonies of members especially of how they overcome in the pandemic, and even how they dealt with their mental state and many more. Build a good reopening communication plan.
Last but not the least, do not put yourself under undue pressure though, it’s going to require a significant effort, particularly when it comes to communications, to invite your members and community back to a service. Only do the best you can and adopt any additional strategy you think necessary.
People will return when they are ready and when they think it’s worth it. Affirm this to yourself daily and trusting God for it, it will happen.
It is a well-known fact that you can work hard to create a great (and safe) experience, and you can communicate the why behind the what, but you can’t decide for people. People make decisions based on what they can see and feel.
Let us not be oblivious of the fact that things are changing, and ministry will continue to feel different, there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful about the future of the church. We only just need to put a little bit more effort by applying the change we need, knowing that with God all things are possible.
It does not matter where we meet, getting together with other Christians has been and will continue to be an important part of practicing our faith as affirmed by the word of God “forsake not the gathering of the children of God”