Maybe They Aren’t Coming Back: Embracing Your New Church

This guest post from Rob Douglas, Director of Cyclical Full Circle, invites all leaders — whether established pastors or New Worshiping Community leaders — to wrestle with important questions for our post-Covid future.

The Comeback

I love a good comeback story. I’m the guy who almost never quits on his favorite sports team when they are down. Why? Because I’ve seen it too many times before. The impossible comeback happens all the time, and it reminds us that it’s not over until it’s actually over. There’s always a chance!

Many church experts (including myself) believed that once our churches were able to gather again in-person that the church would rally, mount a huge comeback and that people would return to our church in droves. Like a boomerang, our people were going to return because they always come back. But the hoped-for great comeback story of the Church has yet to be written.    

I held out hope that at certain key transition points, we would experience the great comeback. I said, “When we are finally off zoom, people will come back.” When they didn’t come back, I said, “Just wait until Christmas Eve. That will help re-establish the rhythm of worship again.” After our smallest Christmas Eve gathering ever, I said that people would return if we moved our worship time from afternoon back to the mornings. Nope. Finally, I said, “Don’t worry, once we get to the fall and the kids are back in school and people stop traveling so much, people will start showing up.” But the great comeback simply hasn’t happened.

The Acknowledgement

One Sunday morning, while setting up chairs and musical equipment with Dustin, our technologies guru, he painfully reminded me of all the times over the last year that I had gotten it wrong by saying that people were going to start coming back. This was not the first time that he had told me that we needed to let go of the past and stop focusing on the people who were no longer with us. For a while he had been saying that we needed to shift our focus and our energies to two things:

  1. The people who had decided to come back (present).
  2. The new people we want to connect with (future).

A shift has been taking place in me slowly over the last year and our sound engineer helped accelerate that shift. I no longer expect the great comeback and I acknowledge the truth that these people are probably not returning at all. Maybe there will be a great comeback story for our church, but it will likely not be written by those who left our church during the pandemic and then suddenly returned. Perhaps the comeback story will be written by those people who have already returned and by the new people that our church managed to connect with because it was focusing on the future instead of looking to the past.  

Click here to read the rest of Rob’s article at Cyclical Full Circle.