Don’t Misinterpret the Moment

“I’m so bored. I have nothing to do. Let’s go to church, I’m sure they can give me something to do” said no one ever! Unlike just a couple of years ago post-pandemic when many of us opened our church doors and/or resumed in-person worship and programming, we are starting to see folks coming back to church. Hallelujah!!!

Depending on your context, you may find yourself face-to-face with those you haven’t seen literally since before the pandemic, or the person who came sporadically might be showing up less sporadically, and/or those whose faces are completely new might be coming to “check the church out.” Regardless of the reason, if you’re like me and my husband, you’re happy to see them. It’s exciting to reconnect with those who once called our churches home. It’s affirming to hear that the presence of congregational life was missed. It’s thrilling to meet new people who are curious and optimistic about faith. However, let’s not misinterpret the moment by going into “planning mode” and creating a flurry of new programs, activities, and initiatives to get people “active.”

  • People are not coming back to church because they’re bored and have nothing to do.
  • People are not coming back because they’ve cleared their schedule and have copious amounts of time for church now.
  • People are not coming back because they missed our programs and want to be the ones to keep them going or to resurrect them.

The word tells us:

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:19

Based on conversations we have had with “returners” across our network and those in some of our churches, people are curious about, attracted to, and seeking the “new thing” that God is doing.

  • People are coming back because they are searching for meaning and trying to understand a world that is vastly different than it was just a year or two ago.
  • People are coming back because life has gotten progressively harder, and they need spiritual strength and power that only comes through corporate worship.
  • People are coming back because they have been exposed to different faith communities and theologies, and they need a safe, reliable place to question, wrestle, and discern.
  • People are coming back because they are desperate for an encounter with the Holy other.
  • People are coming back because culture has diminished their human dignity and they long to be known, seen, and loved as the Beloved of God.
  • People are coming back because they are grieving and mourning and need faithful community to accompany them.
  • People are coming back because they have rested and repented from the relentless grind of productivity and work and want to establish restoring rhythms of life.
  • People are coming back because they have been starved by shallow interactions, vapid conversations, and dysfunctional relationships and they long for the healing balm of Gilead.

In 1908, Jonathan Oatman penned these words which I believe are still instructive for us.

“Oh! The world is hungry for the Living Bread,

Lift the Savior up for them to see,

Trust Him, and do not doubt the words that He said,

I’ll draw all men unto Me.”

Friends, we have been presented with a golden opportunity to go deep with those who are returning to church or maybe even coming for the first time. Let’s not misinterpret the moment. I believe our task is to meet people where they are and to join them on their journey toward an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

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