By Brooke Holt
As a pastor’s wife, I have seen the church endure many trials throughout our twenty-five plus years in ministry. Yet, who could have anticipated the effects of COVID? In 2001, my husband and I moved from Charlotte, N.C. to Lake Mary, FL for a new calling. Within a month of serving in this new church, the United States experienced the terrorist attack of 9/11. Much to our surprise, Sunday attendance tripled in our first month on the job.
Americans were shocked, devastated, and desperate, and they poured into religious institutions. Sunday attendance escalated everywhere. According to an article released by Fox News, “roughly half of the adult population in the United States attended a religious service on the Sunday following the terror attacks” (Church Attendance Back to Normal, Jan. 13, 2015, Fox News). For a brief time, church attendance reached all-time highs. Sadly, that attendance quickly dwindled.
Unlike 9/11, the desperation resulting from the corona virus sent people out of churches rather than into them. We offered church services via livestream, and people sat down to watch wearing pajamas and with coffee in hand. Truthfully, I really enjoyed the first couple of weeks of this on-line church. It provided a welcome break from the frenetic schedule we lived. Then, one week became a month and two, three, and so forth. By the time we regathered for in-person worship, I found myself in tears at being among my church friends. We worshipped outside for quite some time then made reservations at church to ensure there was no overcrowding.
Over-crowding is the last concern in most churches today. In fact, church attendance is now only 36-60% of what it was pre-COVID (18 of the Latest Church Statistics You Should Know in 2022, Thomas Costello). Many people have opted to keep watching church from home or have completely dropped attending at all. How can the church recover? Many thoughts prevail on recovery for the church, so I will share my thoughts based on what I have read and seen in the twenty different churches I have attended in the past six months.
I will begin by saying how encouraged I have been by the people we have encountered in each church. They come because they genuinely want to know the Lord, to be in fellowship, and to grow in godliness. That is the good news! The sad news is that about 60% of their fellow church members have not returned with such zeal. And it is not that people are thriving away from corporate worship and fellowship. Anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, and therapists remain in great demand. Instead of thriving, people are struggling, but they are not returning to the body of Christ to find much-needed hope, encouragement, godly counsel, and support.
So how can the church minister to those people who seem apprehensive or unwilling to return to Sunday morning worship? The most effective way I have seen to draw non-believers, fringe church-attendees, or those who still want to avoid large crowds into fellowship is through small group ministry. Let’s face it – it is easier and often more convenient to attend a small group gathering in a friend or neighbor’s home. The fellowship occurs more naturally there and offers the choice to participate in a discussion or to sit back and just listen. Attendees have opportunities to disagree with what they hear or read and then to have discussions about those things. That does not typically happen on a Sunday morning!
What if churches went back to what the early church did and met in homes? Organizing small group ministry does not need to be difficult. Just look around – who is naturally inclined to show hospitality? Ask those people to open their homes for a six-week study; then provide the Bible study curriculum. Ideally, your entire church can meet in small groups studying the same curriculum. Hopefully, participation in these small groups would then draw people back to corporate worship, especially if Sunday sermons align with the small group study.
Small groups offer immense potential for church members to invite those who have never attended church and to re-engage those who have not returned. People need people right now. Even more, people need Jesus! How can the church emerge from COVID stronger in faith and strength? Primarily, the church can recover through faithfully teaching the Gospel but then thinking creatively to get members actively involved while offering salvation to those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ.
Bible Study Media exists to help churches with this small group ministry. Check out our many options for studies. Each one contains a book with daily devotions and a small group study guide. Each study has professionally done videos for each study so that hosts can turn on the tv for teaching.
If you need help in building a small group ministry at your church, call us or fill out a form on our website. We would love to share helpful resources.
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