I concede that my title might be a bit wonky, but there’s method in my madness.
Everybody knows that most churches lost people by way of the COVID shut down.
- Some folks decided that if it’s okay to just “watch church” on a screen at home during the shutdown, it should be okay to continue to do the same after the shutdown.
- Some people slipped painlessly from watching a worship service at home to simply NOT watching a worship service at home. “A Christian movie would be much more enjoyable and just as helpful, and wouldn’t it?”
- Others among our former attendees used the “break” afforded by the shutdown to return to a different congregation. The shutdown ended the “contract.” This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly has been challenging for church leaders. The “Great Re-Shuffling” has, at minimum, created a lot of sorrow and made a lot of work for church leaders everywhere.
While some of these new attendees are those who have “re-shuffled” in from other congregations, others among them are brand new church attendees.
- All ages, all demographics: young singles, families, empty nesters, senior citizens.
- Largely unchurched. Wonderful! These are the people we should be pursuing. Right? They’re not coming to us from the church down the street; they’re checking out a church for the first time ever or the first time in a long time.
- Confused and frightened by the events which have rocked our world. As Jesus’ followers we are not supposed to be confused or profoundly discouraged by even catastrophic world events. Our leader said, “…see to it that you are not alarmed” (Matthew 24:6). But people who don’t know Christ and live their whole lives in slavery to the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15) have every reason to be shaking in their shoes. They remind me of the troubled young people who walked through our church doors right after the September 11, 2001 attacks. We were thrilled to have them.
I’m calling our 2021 newbies our “post-apocalyptic guests.”
As succinctly as I know how, here’s how we can welcome these precious people:
- Make room for them in your heart. We’re all grieving those we’ve lost. Some churches even lost a number of persons to COVID deaths. Grief is miserable. It’s easy to get lost in it. Parents neglect their kids because of grief. Married people stop seeing their spouses because of grief.
After the self-destruction of King Saul, God had to tell the prophet Samuel to get out of the house, fill his ram’s horn with some fresh oil, and go anoint a new king (I Samuel 16:1).
After the tragic death of his son Absalom, King David was frozen with grief, failing to provide his nation with the leadership that was badly needed (II Samuel 19). He had to be told in no uncertain terms to stop weeping and start leading again.
- Start seeing them in the crowd. Yes, you’re seeing a lot of empty chairs. Yes, you’re seeing folks who have transferred from other churches, and it’s not an awful thing that you’re a bit skeptical about how long they’re going to stick around.
But among the empty chairs and the “transfer growth” are some of these post-apocalyptic guests. They are largely as ignorant as can be of everything “churchy.”
See them. Love them.
He’s calling us to see them and love them the way He does.
- Start considering them in your plans. They’re out there. They need some very basic teaching and presentations of the gospel. They’re not coming with Bibles. Their children don’t know how to behave in church. They’re skeptical about this whole “church thing.”
They don’t understand why nobody’s eating Sausage Egg McMuffins during the show.
They’re wondering if we really have any help for them.
You’ll need to find out who they are. The post-apocalyptic guests in your church might be very different from those who have shown up at the church down the road.
How can we best take advantage of this opportunity, for their good and God’s glory?
Did you do something new and flexible and adaptive after September 11, 2001? Maybe we need to do that again.
I just heard of one congregation which has turned – at least temporarily – their whole Sunday morning experience into an Alpha (introduction to Christianity) experience. Isn’t this something like what Jesus would do? His half-brother James – sometimes accused of being separatistic and austere – said, “…we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).
Here are those suggestions one more time:
- Make room for them in your heart
- Start seeing them in the crowd
- Start considering them in your plans