A Word from Walker
The weather is warming up and we are beginning to see signs of the much-awaited advent of spring. Coupled with this is our longing anticipation of eventually outstriding the pandemic that has chased us around for two years. As I talk with pastors and church leaders, most feel their churches are back to more regular rhythms in ministry and are thus a little more emboldened to make plans for upcoming months. Still, many congregations have sustained about a 30-35% reduction in public worship attendance. What is the right response to this challenge? Here are some of my thoughts about this …
First, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to diversify our approach. For lots of churches, the most important thing they did was to come together for public worship. While public worship is essential, it is by no means singularly important. For example, if our goal is for the church to be about the mission of making disciples, then what are the indicators that our members are moving beyond the four walls of the church’s physical location to engage the lost with the gospel and see the Kingdom of God expanded? Is it just about worship or Sunday School attendance? I have noticed that churches that were about the mission of moving out into their communities and beyond before the pandemic were doing better than churches that weren’t. Part of the reason for this is that if a church’s missional strategy was attractional, this meant that success was all about bringing people to services or an event. When the pandemic hit, obviously they were stuck because they couldn’t physically gather. Even if this were the case in the past, those same churches had the once-in-a-generation opportunity to shift from being solely dependent on gathering as their core missional strategy to diversifying their approach. A good example of this is accessing technology where previously it was not strategically used. This slight shift gave churches a new way of reaching people. Instead of ditching this, why not keep this approach as an expanded way of reaching more people. Such pivots, and what they taught us about being more innovative in our approach to ministry, should serve as a new leveraging point in creative pathways for disciple-making.
Second, the short-term (at the very least) reduction in worship attendance should move us to spend more time equipping those that remain to become more missional. This means helping them understand their gifts and talents in light of maximizing their investment in others for the glory of God. Instead of wringing our hands over the people we’ve lost, we should be doubling down and developing the people we have. Years ago I was exposed to the ministry of a Foursquare Pentecostal Church that was planted right in the middle of Simi Valley during the height of the technological boom. What their pastor discovered was that about every 2-4 years, their members would be transferred all over the world. For a while every leader in the church was understandably discouraged. Then it hit them … God had engineered this so that they could train up their people to bless other congregations. So instead of mourning over this pattern, they got really serious about discipling their members so that they were ready to bless churches, literally, all over the world. In similar fashion we should treat any reduction in attendance as a stimulant to get serious about discipling the people that are present.
In the coming months we will be introducing a tool called Disciple-Cycle. It is designed to help a church of any size launch a simple, replicable way of getting started in a disciple-making movement. You will hear more about this as we get ready to launch this ministry late second or early third quarter of this year. In the meantime, keep looking at new and better ways of helping the people you have become more Kingdom-focused children of God. We value and appreciate each of you and look forward to finding new ways we can partner together to see great things happen.
Your fellow servant in Christ,