May 20, 2021

Why Aren't They Showing Up?

Large and small, urban and rural congregations across the states have been surprised by how few people are coming back to church now that things are opening back up. Why are they shocked? Because the information they had led them to believe members were eager to return.

Due to the isolation we all experienced, the collective lament has been, "We miss each other!" Of course faith community leaders took this as an indication that it was time to set a date, make a plan and hold in-person worship services once again. To the chagrin of so many leaders, people are not showing up in person at the levels they had hoped. The number of people that said "We miss being together" did not equal those that came together for in-person worship. This has left many congregation leaders scratching their heads and frustrated.

Here's a critical piece of what has been missed in the concern expressed by members to their congregation leaders: they missed each other. What most have not said is, "I miss sitting in a room watching you at the front."

This does not mean they didn't miss you, dear leader, but it means that they missed the relationships over the ritual—no matter what your flavor of ritual might be. This is not a bad sign. It means that when a pandemic has washed away our pretenses, we're clear on the importance of meaningful relationships—which is what keeps people coming back to church. So, this is a good instinct. But this may mean that the picnics and cookouts are more critical than they were thought to be. Opportunities to sit in wide circles in lawn chairs and benches facing each other, seeing faces we've missed are likely more important in this moment than sitting in a room facing the backs of other peoples heads. Which is to say that building relational cohesion, space for people to talk, share their experiences and ongoing concerns may be more primary before scaling up in-person worship.

Of course, some only pressed you with, "When are we going to back to normal worship?" as a kind of political litmus test. Chances are they didn't show up either. Misinformation and disinformation are not going away and you need to be prepared for this. Spend your time being concerned with weaving together the relationships of those who are saying "yes" to what your congregation can offer rather than fretting over those that say "no."

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