Now that many congregations can celebrate an uptick in the numbers of people returning to in-person worship, it is tempting to rely on some of the same metrics that guided us before the COVID-19 pandemic — like the number of bodies in the pews — as a measure of church health. The return to in-person worship is truly a sign of hope, but even before the pandemic, the number of people in the building was not the church health bellwether we thought it was. How easily we forget.
The post-resurrection narratives in the gospels clearly point us to ministry beyond the sanctuary. Perhaps Eastertide is a good time to call the church to recommit itself to its mission in the world. A congregation that seeks to revitalize and reengage its members should not make the mistake of turning inward. If we want to compel people to reengage and get involved, we need to invite the church to respond innovatively and courageously to the community’s needs.
After the resurrection, Jesus commissions the disciples to go somewhere or do something. In Matthew, he tells the disciples to “go therefore and make disciples.” In the longer ending of Mark, he tells the disciples to “go into all the world.” In John, Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus had no plans for the disciples to hide from the world. He sent the disciples out into the cities.
What do you know about the needs of your city? Is there an affordable housing shortage? Do lower-income families have access to high-quality summer camps and childcare? Do senior adults have meaningful activities to occupy their time during the day? What issues pose the greatest challenges for immigrants in your area? When church leaders become experts on the issues in their local community, they can provide visionary leadership for how the church continues its mission beyond the sanctuary. We might be surprised who shows up.
Alban at Duke Divinity School APRIL 17, 2023