The following are insights to ponder from an article by Susan Beaumont that I want to share with you relating to the changing role of the church in light of the pandemic:
During the pandemic, people are finding meaningful new ways to connect with us online in worship, programs, and service. These connections do not look anything like what we previously recognized as engagement. What happens to our newly-formed online communities as we return to our buildings? Five long-standing assumptions about belonging, engagement and membership that are crumbling now:
Geography dictates belonging.
The pandemic has shifted our reality. In the time we have been out of our buildings many of us have discovered new constituent relationships that have nothing to do with geography. Who are we now? What, if anything does membership mean to someone who does not interact in our physical space?
Discipleship begins with membership.
Now the journey often works in reverse. People connect with us in order to serve, and service helps them to belong. People need to feel that they belong before they join. Some people are not interested in membership at all. They may or may not attend worship. What will it mean to belong for those who have no relationship to our physical space or our physical gatherings?
Worship participation is the best indicator of member engagement.
This assumption has not been true for a while . . . Engaged people are worshiping with less frequency and many people who belong to the congregation do not become members. What does authentic engagement look like in a virtual world?
In-person engagement is more authentic than online engagement.
"When will we be able to get back to real worship?" This is a common question posed by those who find sacred space in physical sanctuaries. . . . However, new people finding their way to us online probably do not share this assumption. As we re-enter our buildings, it behooves us to remember that there are people who want to worship, learn, and serve with us, but they are not interested in our buildings.
Belonging requires owning the "whole" church.
Historically, choosing to become a member of a congregation included a commitment to support the full ministry of the congregation. The pandemic is drawing this assumption, also, into question. Many people who have found their way to us through online worship, service projects, or online classes may have little interest in the full ministry of our congregation.
While these ideas are not the final word, I invite all of us to be in prayer so we can discern how to serve faithfully as followers of Christ in our changing world!