I believe we have found ourselves in the “new normal” in our life together as a worshiping community.
As we have been getting back to “normal” I hear a murmuring in our congregation, asking “where is everyone?”
It is a legitimate question because our congregation looks and feels a little different. To be frank, our world looks and feels a little different living in the wake of a global pandemic, political polarization, and economic instability.
Have you been to a restaurant lately? It seems like there are a lot of places with the signs sharing “we’re hiring” or “be patient, we‘re short staffed.”
Our average attendance for in-person worship has shifted so I did a little number crunching and investigation. I think these numbers are interesting to share.
We are averaging around 60-70 people at both the 8:30 and the 11 worship times. In the before-times we averaged a little over 100 at each depending on the school year or summer months.
We presently average around 20 devices tuning in live at our 8:30 worship service on our YouTube channel each Sunday. By the end of the week that video climbs between 70 to 100 views. If you acknowledge that some of these “views” have more than one person watching in a household, the number of people worshiping with us through our live-stream goes up a little more.
So... if you add 70 times 2 with over 100 people watching our live-stream per week that number comes to around 250 people engaging our worship opportunities each week. Which is the same, it not a little more, as our average weekly worship attendance we had in 2019.
Here are some other numbers and stats I think are interesting, and encouraging…
We have 510 households who subscribe to our weekly Email newsletter (around 71% open the email on Thursdays, around 58% open the Sunday email).
We have 406 subscribers on our YouTube channel. (a few weeks ago we had 395)
We have 699 “followers” on Facebook (can someone help us get to 700?).
We have 340 followers on Instagram, and 233 on Twitter.
Through our friends and followers liking/reacting/retweeting/sharing our posts the platforms share with us that we reach 100s of people with each post.
Even though we are not seeing as many people physically attend in-person worship as we did before 2020. We are still pretty consistent and above average with the number of people engaging our community of faith each week, and we can say for sure we have extended our reach beyond our physical buildings more than we did before COVID.
Crunching the numbers, we have more people engaging with our community each week than before 2020....
The difference is how people are engaging with our community.
I often ask people what their favorite way to consume a story is… streaming, reading, listening to an audiobook, movie theaters, on their phone, large home TV screens, kindle, podcasts, or even gathering with people online or in person to talk about and process these stories… or perhaps all of the above.
The Church, and our community of faith, is leaning into these different ways of sharing and engaging the story of Jesus and the Gospel of God’s grace in his life, death and resurrection.
I understand the concern, I have them as well, but I feel we also need to come to grips with the diverse ways our members, family and friends are engaging and reengaging with our community in a host of meaningful ways. Of course we miss our friends and miss seeing people face to face. Over the next few months we will continue to strive to find ways to provide opportunities for us to connect with each other in person.
If you look at a few blog posts ago (back in April) I lifted up these questions…
Why does the church look emptier than it used to? Why are people disassociating with organized religion?
How do we get more people to “come to church”?
What will the Church and our congregation look like next month, let alone in 10 years?
We asked these questions in preparation for our summer book reading for both our Church Council and the congregation. Responding to, and being proactive, with our ever-changing world and the reality of a post-COVID “new normal”, we read together Dr. Andrew Root’s book, Churches and the Crises of Decline: A Hopeful, Practical Ecclesiology for a Secular Age.
The main question Dr. Root raises is, “With churches in the crisis of declining numbers (people and resources) how do we invite people to be a part of our community of faith?” Do we get a better marketing program? Do we work even harder? Do we get even busier? Are we really in competition with the church down the road? Or rather, we are called to become better stewards with our energy and gifts and strive to provide an authentic space to encounter the living God. Perhaps we are being called to be counter cultural and actually slow down. And following the example of Jesus, doing our best to be intentional in going deeper in our relationships and faith.
This wasn’t the easiest book to read because of the counter cultural message and deep theological and philosophical concepts, but my hope was that Dr. Root’s book would help us reframe the main questions all churches, organizations, and institutions are wrestling with, and not entertain cliché answers.
My plan is to continue to challenge our leadership and congregation by keeping these big and important questions in front of us as we move forward in ministry and discipleship together. The temptation is to stay anxious with the questions “Where is everyone?” and “What more can we do?” But I am going to do my best to shift the attention and energy to those who are here and engaging with our community and to keep wrestling with, “How are we going deeper in our faith and relationships?”
We have shared that these questions have been orbiting around mainline Protestantism for decades, and yet it seems the pandemic has only accelerated the urgency and anxiety around them. Again, I am of the humble opinion that the Church will never die, but it may look and operate different as we and our world wrestle with good and authentic questions about what it means to be a people and community of faith.
With that being said, of course we will continue to be shepherds to the sheep in our fold and the lost sheep searching for a safe home. We will always have our doors open to welcome people into our midst as well as continuing to strive to be warm, welcoming and hospitable to all.
In a few weeks we plan to roll out our fall Stewardship emphasis. We are going to revisit our “10, 5, 2, 1” challenge from a few years back. Challenging our congregation to do 10 minutes of Bible study or devotions and prayer each day, make 5 caring connections each week, find 2 ways to get involved with Holy Trinity, and to grow one step in your financial giving at Holy Trinity. I believe these challenges, goals and vision will help us discern how we engage and connect with our community of faith as “subscribers”, “followers”, “reactors”, "viewers", “sustainers” and more importantly as disciples of Jesus who we claim as Christ.
As always, if you have any questions, concerns, and/or ideas for our community of faith please feel free to contact me.
Life can seem far from “normal” these days, and yet every generation is faced with unprecedented challenges on how to live our lives.
You are not alone.
You are loved.
We are in this together.
Let’s be the Church, the Body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus... together.
Pastor Will Rose