When you can’t see what comes next, as I wrote about last time, everything begins to look like a problem. One of the big problems that we see as a church right now is that some people aren’t coming back to church.
It’s now been a year since our doors first shut on a Sunday morning, and now that they are open, we are finding that people found others places to be on Sunday. Some of them are at home, some are at the golf course, and some are simply not interested anymore. When we see this as a problem, it’s hard to know what to do.
But what if we saw this as an opportunity? That sounds like crazy talk, I know. Bear with me.
Remember how, when everyone was in the seats on Sunday, you wanted them to have relationships with their neighbors and co-workers in which they could – and would! – influence them for the gospel? Remember how, we used to plead with our people to serve in the community? Remember how we wanted them to join a small group so they could grow as disciples of Jesus in community, putting the things they learned into practice in their lives?
Don’t we still want that for them?
Consider where the congregation is now. Those who have returned to church services in person are those who have deep relationships with others who have also returned. They are coming for encouragement and personal connection. Those who are not at church are, for the most part, not on their own. They are deeply embedded in a tightknit community they might call their bubble.
The bubble is a small group of individuals and families that are doing life together in a mutually supportive way. A bubble might be formed around a group of co-workers and their families. A bubble might be an extended family with multiple households. A bubble might be centered around children who need supervision or around the medically fragile who need protection. The people in the bubble may not share the same backgrounds, the same beliefs, or the same politics, but they share the same concerns.
During the pandemic, the bubble emerged as a coping strategy for mental health and practical needs of those in the bubble. The people in the bubble eat meals together, they care for one another’s children, they run errands for those most vulnerable to illness. They care for one another purposefully. They are generous, hospitable, and selfless with one another. In short, they love one another.
The bubble is an expression of the church.
When we see our distributed church members as doing the work of the ministry in their bubbles, our perspective changes. Now we are stewarding an opportunity like we have never had before. The question becomes less of “How do we get them back in the building?” and more of “How do we equip them for the bubble?”
My complaining, my inviting, my grumbling, my marketing, my persuasion of all varieties to get people to return to a program and a place we called the church are not working. Maybe that’s because the Holy Spirit is doing something else. Or something also.
What if, instead of looking at the state of the church right now as a problem, we looked at it as an opportunity? An opportunity to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12).