All the church had to do in the past was turn on the lights and unlock the doors, and people would come. That season in the church’s life has shifted, but many churches have not changed with the times.
Long before the pandemic, the church in North America was in a season of decline, and those numbers have accelerated since 2020. Instead of looking backward, the church should begin to look outward as it revamps how it reconnects with the community.
For many, the church has become fragmented through political polarization, social wedge issues, and cultural correctness that has forced Christians to pick sides, leaving a segment of the population disengaged during weekly services. The lack of connectedness has been pushed into the spotlight even more since the pandemic ended, as up to a quarter of members did not return to the local church.
Instead of seeing the lack of a return as a negative, the church has a real opportunity to redouble its efforts to build a stronger core with whom it can relaunch back into the community.
Reconnecting with current members will vary from church to church. Still, it will have a similar foundation built on relationships, one-on-one interactions outside of the church, small group gatherings in homes or in the community doing life together, and serving in the church on teams. Each of these core components will help restore faith in the local church, reestablish camaraderie, and strengthen the familial bond in partnership with the local church.
Where once neighbors walked to church, they now pass by, not thinking twice about the activities that are taking place inside the four walls. One must ask, if the neighborhood does not recognize that the church is alive, the church must begin to reengage and develop connections by going outside its walls.
With the challenges the church faces today, it can begin reimagining what it would look like in the neighborhood for this season in which they find themselves—hosting annual block parties, opening up the parking lot for garage sales, teaming up with a social service agency to host a bike rodeo or hosting informal classes in partnership with an area vocational school or community college. Anything and everything that can show the church is alive is what needs to take place.
The church is called to go, but for far too many, they are in a retreat position regarding community engagement and outreach. As the culture has shifted, the church has felt the hostile pushback from a society that has changed norms, and the church has struggled to adapt in love. While the Word of God will never change, how the Word is shared must adapt to the times. This is not new; in Jesus’ time, he shared through his life and ministry that he was adaptable to the situation he found himself in over time. He was the same Jesus, teaching the same message, but did it in a way that spoke directly to the audience that he was in front of. As the church in the 21st century, so too must leaders today adapt to the audience they are speaking to but never water down the message.
In a day and age where mental health issues are on the rise, the church must become a safe place for individuals to walk through life with. Instead of challenging everything, why not show love? Instead of debating, why not listen? Instead of judging, why not extend grace? What an opportunity the church has to live out the values and teachings of the Bible by being Jesus to those living in sin, struggling with addiction, or needing a word of encouragement.
Global Outreach Connector
Most denominations have a strong missional emphasis that calls the church outside of itself. But when a church retreats, it tends to disconnect from outside ministry that does not directly impact the local church. A connector church serves locally and internationally to expand the gospel for Jesus.
The missional arm of your denomination or network is a powerful resource to tap into and to sow through financial, spiritual, and relational giving. When a church is in crisis, there is a tendency to look inward when the Word of God is calling the church to look outward.
Connect with a missionary or global area and develop a long-term partnership where the missional heart around the world becomes a place for the mission of the church to be lived out daily through investments of prayer, giving and service. There is a saying that we, the church, are better together, there is no doubt that when a church serves locally and globally, the church truly becomes the hands and feet of Jesus in action.
As the world changes around the church, be a church that finds innovative ways to reconnect with the outside by loving like Christ and living out the faith as a connector over the rough spiritual waters of the world.
Desmond Barrett is an author and lead pastor at Summit Church of the Nazarene in Ashland, Kentucky.