This week we were able to restart our Wonderful Wednesday children’s after school program after a 19-month hiatus. It was awesome to have the kids and adult leaders back. Like several of our on campus ministries, it was shut down in 2020 because of COVID. So, it’s been great to get wonderful Wednesday’s back in the ministry rotation.
One of the biggest takeaways from the onset of COVID till now is the sense of loss. We lost opportunities to spend time with family and friends; the opportunity to travel, to play sports, to go to school in person, to go to church; opportunities to celebrate and have ceremonies (graduation, awards banquets, weddings, funerals). Some were not even allowed to say goodbye to their loved ones who passed away, which is unimaginable and heartbreaking. The list just goes on and on. Basically, our ability to participate and engage was taken away almost overnight, literally. Even though, we have been able to reengage in a lot of our activities before COVID; at least to me there is this nagging feeling of loss, like something is missing. Maybe it’s just me, but considering the rise in mental health issues in our society, I know I’m not the only one.
I preached about hitting the “reset button” last week during our 11am worship service, and 2021 has definitely been a year of resets and restarts. I know we’re not “out of the woods” yet with COVID, and it seems like we are taking two steps forward and two steps back sometimes, but we are making progress towards getting back on our feet from a ministry perspective. Since the end of the summer and beginning of the school year our facility usage has increased and groups are starting to reserve the gym for tutoring and athletic practices. 5thQuarters are back. We had a games booth and bake sale at Oktoberfest last weekend, so our reengagement with the community is definitely on the upswing.
Another interesting development throughout the pandemic is the pivot or shift from in person to online participation. At least for us, church was exclusively online from March 2020 to May 2021, that’s 14 months. According to researchers it can take as little as 21 days to form a habit, so our culture had plenty of time to get used to worshiping from home. I know some churches never stopped or came back a little earlier, but for most people it took a while.
As if it wasn’t hard enough for churches to engage the culture before the pandemic, it got even more challenging when the “rules of engagement” got turned upside down. In all my years as a minister, I haven’t seen a cultural shift of this magnitude in such a short period of time. I have read article after article about the need for a greater online presence and engagement due to this cultural shift. Online worship was picking up steam before COVID, but kicked into overdrive several months into the pandemic. Some churches already had a pretty strong online presence so acclimating to change was not as difficult. They were ready. Many churches, like ours, were scrambling to put something together.
Like it or not, online engagement or participation is here to stay. It won’t replace in person worship, but establishing a strong online presence is equally important in this new reality. It’s hard to understand how people can get engaged in a community or church without being there. But as we have learned over the last 18 months, we have found new ways to get “plugged in”. Some came back to church, in person, and some didn’t. It doesn’t mean they will never come back in person, but for now online engagement is the new thing.
Engagement is also the new metric for measuring the health and vitality of churches. Engagement is the ability to participate or get involved in something. It’s also the ability to occupy, attract, or involve. Engagement is more than just being there. There is nothing wrong with just being there, but being actively involved and engaged in service and ministry takes it to another level. The new challenge for the church today and many other organizations for that matter is how to engage or attract our culture on multiple platforms.
Change is constant and inevitable. Certain adjustments have to be made. Sometimes we have to roll with it, and as one of the leadership guys that I follow likes to say, “PIVOT”. A “pivot” is the central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates. When used as a verb it means to “turn on or as if on a pivot”. You may have heard the expression “turn on a dime” which refers to a maneuver that can be performed by a moving vehicle or person within a small area or short distance. It’s the ability to change direction quickly. In a culture of constant change and technological advancement being able to PIVOT is essential. It has great spiritual significance as well. Times and methods may change, but the mission stays the same. The Apostle Paul understood all this when he wrote:
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.