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Top Ten List: How to Bring Your Congregation Out of the Pandemic Era

Three years ago, the world was shocked when churches, schools, and most other public spaces in our country were closed indefinitely because of a pandemic that most of us thought could never happen in the twenty-first century. During the spring of 2020, still expecting to reopen our churches after a few weeks, I invited Dr. Cheryl Anderson, a distinguished epidemiologist from UC San Diego, to speak on a clergy Zoom call. Someone asked Dr. Anderson, “How long do you expect this pandemic to last?” Without missing a beat, she said, “About three years.”  

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t imagine that the emergency could possibly last that long. But it was almost three years later, last December when we finally felt comfortable enough to hold the Good News Festival that had been postponed twice – and even then, one of our keynote speakers, Dr. William Barber, had to bow out at the last minute because he caught Covid. Three years later, the world is finally returning to normal. 

But even if the world is back to normal, our churches aren’t quite back to normal yet. While some churches are enjoying booming attendance and participation, most are still not back to pre-pandemic attendance. On average, the churches I visit tell me that they are financially stable, but their attendance is not back to pre-pandemic levels, especially among younger families. While we did well with the short-term challenge of how to keep our congregations together during a pandemic, the bigger challenge is proving to be the same one that our churches have confronted for a long time: how, in a time of church decline, to reach our communities with the good news of Jesus Christ.  

Just last week, I issued updated post-pandemic worship guidance to clergy. This week, I am continuing with a Top Ten List of suggestions for congregations, and how our diocese can support you as we emerge from the pandemic.  

  1. Start with prayer. Pray for your church and its leaders. Pray for God to help you reach those who need to hear the good news of Christ as we have received it in the Episcopal Church. Ask your members to pray. Pray in worship, and pray in your congregation’s prayer teams.  
  2. Focus on ministries with young people. Engage with our diocese’s Director of Christian Formation, Charlette Preslar (CPreslar@edsd.org), if you’re not sure where to begin. Get people ready to work with children before you think they are needed. Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard about a member of a small church who attended training to be certified as a Godly Play instructor. Two weeks later, a newcomer arrived at church and asked if there was anything for children. That church now has a small but thriving Sunday school program.  
  3. Build discipleship among adults in your congregation. If you’re not offering Bible studies or other discipleship classes, find a way to offer them. Charlette Preslar or Canon Jason Evans (JEvans@edsd.org) can help you find resources. You can also find great Bible study resources at Forward Movement, or do a deep dive into discipleship in your congregation by doing the RenewalWorks program (Canon Jason can give you more information about that). Committed disciples help reach other disciples. 
  4. Get engaged in your community. Our diocese offers a Community Engagement Process to help you get to know leaders in your area and discover how your church should be involved. Contact Canon Jason Evans at jevans@edsd.org for more information.  
  5. Every congregation has one or two people who are joyful evangelists – who have transformative personal stories, or who are gifted inviters. Get them trained as lay evangelists through our diocese’s offerings. Contact Canon Jason for more information. 
  6. Consider how your congregation treats newcomers. Canon Gwynn Lynch tells of attending a church in another diocese whose members completely ignored her. The priest had no idea that a newcomer had that kind of experience. Insiders to your church may not realize a newcomer’s experience, either. Canon Gwynn Lynch (GLynch@edsd.org) would be happy to come lead your vestry or other leaders in considering newcomer ministry. Or, get a “Mystery Worshiper” to come to church and honestly report what they experience. Or, contact Canon Jason and ask him how to institute an Invite Welcome Connect program in your congregation.  
  7. Update your church’s website. Make sure that service times and directions are clear. Scrub outdated information and put exciting news and photos on the home page. Contact Director of Communications Chris Tumilty (CTumilty@edsd.org) for support.  
  8. Get started with military ministries. If your church is near a military base, contact our Military Missioner, Randy Cash (TCash@edsd.org), for ideas on how to reach out. Even if you’re not near a military base, consider how you can support veterans in your congregation or convene them so they can support each other.  
  9. Contact our Multicultural Missioner, Rachel Ambasing (RAmbasing@edsd.org). Talk with her about how to hear the stories of, and build relationships with, the diverse peoples of your area. Our church needs to learn and grow through the experiences of all God’s people.  
  10. Contact our Migration Missioner, Robert Vivar (RVivar@edsd.org), to learn how to support migrants and refugees. As Title 42 was lifted last week, the plight of migrants is becoming more and more urgent in our communities. Demonstrate God’s love for all people in word and action by serving the people God loves.  

Three years ago, we could not have imagined how the world would change. But God has been with us. I am unendingly grateful for the many ways our clergy and lay leaders led our congregations through an emergency. Now we’re out of the urgent into the important: the long-term work of partnering with God and growing God’s Reign on earth. The Episcopal Church has so much to offer our world: the good news of Christ’s redeeming love, and the resurrection of the Son of God, through which we have been born anew to a living hope. Thanks be to God!   


Category: #Bishop's Blog, #Creation Care, #Deacons, #Evangelism, #Migration, #Military, #Multicultural Ministry, #Outreach, #Service, #Stewardship, #Sundays, #Worship & Formation

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3 replies to “Top Ten List: How to Bring Your Congregation Out of the Pandemic Era

  1. Martha BOZULICH | on May 18, 2023

    Thanks for these ideas. Trinity has so much to offer . We need help to attract our dtverse community to be involved with us.

  2. Stephen Sturk | on June 7, 2023

    I am continually disappointed that MUSIC is almost never mentioned as an evangelistic tool for our churches. National surveys show that between 13 and 15% of Americans participate regularly in some choral activity. Why not focus more resources on providing professional musical leadership for our congregations? Obviously, start with kids’ choirs. Singing in a choir demands faithful attendance and participation. A faithful choir member often grows into a faithful congregant. (See the Rev. Susan Latimer’s story elsewhere in this issue.) Now that most places have emerged from pandemic mode, it’s time to rebuild choirs and music programs!

  3. Belinda Long | on August 7, 2023

    I’m a member of St Mary’s In The Valley Ramona. The section on military information gave me an idea to reach out to our military families here in Ramona. Interestingly we have 2 military apartment complexes located here. I will share this with Mother Hannah.
    Thank you

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