The first summer in a home we bought in 2014, I planted wisteria. It was a tiny little plant, but I had big hopes for it growing up to a second-story deck. It took a little time and coaxing to get it up the post, around the joists, and to the decking. Then I started weaving the plant’s branches and spurs in and out of the deck rails, creating a wall of green with a couple weeks of spectacular purple blooms that smell like heaven.
Since I’m not a particularly patient person, this was both healthy exercise and metaphor for life. Not all good things just happen; they have to be coaxed, coached, supported, and—take it how you will—fertilized.
In our churches, you are probably noticing the same COVID return-to-worship trend I am: some people have fallen off. As I think about educational programming this fall, I wonder who will be missing among our kids and youth. I’m not good at patience, but I am good at worry! But in this instance, I think I’m on solid ground.
While there are probably loads of good reasons why people might be staying away from in-person worship—protecting those not able to receive a vaccine, the freedom to travel after months at home, spending weekends with loved ones, and so on—I want to encourage you to not just see what happens this fall, but to proactively contact congregational members.
Reach out to families. Larger church staff, gather your volunteers and assign call lists of a dozen or so per head. Small church folks, get on the phone or send a text, email, or notecard (!) checking in with your families. If they haven’t been at worship, let them know you miss them. Invite them back personally. Be cautious about framing it as a guilt trip! A call might go something like this:
Hi, this is Rebecca from church. I’m just calling to check in and see how you (and your family) have fared through the pandemic. I miss seeing you at church and hope as you are comfortable, you’ll be back to worship (Bible study, confirmation, etc.).
You’re an important part of our faith community! Are there any thoughts you’d like to share with the pastor, office staff, or council as we move into unknown future together?
Equip staff and volunteers with forms to add notes from contacts that they can confidentially turn in to pastors or other relevant staff. (Perhaps someone in the family is a long-hauler after a COVID infection, a job loss makes someone feel they can’t worship if they can’t bring offering, or there are other issues affecting worship attendance.)
There are still many unknowns as we continue to deal with variants and vaccine hesitancy. (Editorial: please, please get vaccinated! Do it for yourself, but also do it for “the least of these” who will be most at risk should one of the new variants jump over the wall of the vaccine protection.) But some things never change: when people fall away from worship, the best thing is to simply invite them back with open arms.