Change and Congregations

Oh boy. I’m going to do something unconventional for me with today’s topic. I’m putting a lot of thought into what I want to say and how I want it interpreted. First, let me point out that churches fill with people who are seeking comfort, guidance, and unconditional acceptance and love. Unfortunately, many people take issues in congregations that most of us do not understand. What do I mean by this? If you are a visitor and seek a new home church, how does it feel if you visit a church only informed that you are in someone else’s seat? I imagine it’s an awkward moment.

COVID has changed everything for everyone. Functions in the community have dramatically changed. No longer can we all be carefree without the overuse of hand sanitizers, temperature checks, and being scolded if we stand too close to each other. Many churches are starting to re-convene but when congregations claim they reach out to the communities, are they being forthright in those claims?

Faith is scary and tricky. When you think you lost your faith, something happens to make you question everything you thought you knew. I’ve seen countless things happen where disaster struck, only to see caring people come to the aid of others less fortunate. When tornados hit our town a few years ago, this community banded together, and it didn’t matter what faith they had; the surrounding community recognized a need and took action so that others wouldn’t have to struggle as hard as they had. Many churches sprung into action. These actions weren’t about race or who was better than someone else. They were about a need and filling that need.

I think that’s one of the reasons that I’m struggling with churches. There is a mentality that scares me. Many people in congregations fight change. It’s always been specific ways, and people struggle to adapt because they don’t want to deviate from the church’s traditions. The problem becomes that it’s more challenging to retain the church’s younger members when they feel nothing for them. Our church has had a very active youth group for the last few decades. The problem isn’t with the youth. It’s what to do with them as they transition. Church comes across as stuffy and boring, and kids have very little interest in staying associated with it because there’s nothing to appeal to them. There’s also the perception that Christians are hypocritical, and I can’t deny this because I find it accurate. That doesn’t mean that I think the churches are wrong. The opposite is true. Churches are where the weakest find strength to stand on their feet while falling on their knees.

So how can churches change during these challenging times? Find out what the needs in your community are. Don’t be afraid to step up to things that you would never have dealt with before. If you find that the young people have been struggling to find out where their footing is, maybe you’re asking the wrong questions. Please don’t ask them in a group setting. Go straight to the ones that have left and get their opinions. Their voices matter.

I sat in a meeting at my church and was upset that the church decided to focus on seniors. I know what I’m about to say is going to sound crass, so let me apologize now because I don’t mean this in a wrong way, but seniors will not be on this earth as long as younger folks. That isn’t to say seniors don’t matter because they do. But there’s a reason that the younger generations have been focused on because it takes the youth to keep places going, and when all the focus places on the older community, growth in churches will not occur.

I think it’s excellent when churches focus on the community without focusing on the church per se. For example, one of the churches I attend has created a food pantry for the community. It’s a pull-up pantry. No questions asked. People drive up and get the available food, and the church restocks it so that others can have the same opportunities. There is no pressure to attend the church. The church is seeing a need and helps keep the shelves stocked. It’s those kinds of gestures that speak volumes—practicing what you believe speaks louder than sharing posts and preaching at others when you aren’t willing to practice what you learn. This act doesn’t require you to be a believer, but it does require compassion and kindness. Those are two attributes more people would benefit from learning.

Many churches are participating in fundraisers for those who have fallen on difficult times. They are choosing to reach out by trusting in their faith. But faith isn’t blind all the time. People with faith believe things are going to get better. That belief comes to fruition not just by faith but by actions. Provisions to keep everyone safe and able to help their community are strictly adhered to because of COVID.

COVID has altered our perception of everything. Don’t let it convince you that life isn’t worth living. You may have to change the way you approach activities, but that’s okay.
If you aren’t a believer, that’s okay too. You don’t have to go to church. You don’t have to believe. I hope that if you don’t believe, you don’t judge others for their beliefs. People have gotten more cynical and demanding over the last few years. I grew up with people. I’ve seen their true colors and learned that they are marching to beats with different rhythms, and that’s fine for them.

I think my one request for all the churches is to stop thinking that times aren’t changing. Don’t wait until the kids are gone before you alter programs. Faith can move mountains if people are willing to invest in that faith. I’m not talking monetarily necessarily. I’m talking about putting effort into their communities, finding the needs, and taking them to the next level. Until that occurs, changes will continue, and churches will need to decide how to handle their futures. Have a great day, everyone.

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