“How do we get new people to come to our church?” It’s a question asked by many compassionate, hospitable, faithful people. We value our congregations, and we want more people to join them.
Perhaps it would be handy if there was one perfect recipe for increasing faith community engagement, but there isn’t. It takes intentionality, and a willingness to adapt, learn and experiment.
For many families of faith, these past few months have been a time of significant transition. Worship shifted from digital-only to a hybrid of digital and some in-person, to primarily in-person with a continued digital presence.
During worship, we’re seeing each other’s faces again. We’re trying out new communion and fellowship practices. Some churches have noticed an uptick in attendance, but many haven’t and are wondering: “Where is everyone, and when are they coming back?”
Rather than panic or blame, now is a great time to pray, listen and do some self-reflecting as congregations.
Get real about “why” you hope for people to join you. It’s valuable to dig into why you’d like to have more people with you on Sunday mornings. Is it for their spiritual benefit? Are you excited about the ways that the insights and abilities of additional people will reshape the congregation itself? Or is it more about your desire to return to some kind of glory days in which pews seemed a lot more full?
Jesus called his followers to "make disciples," but he didn’t say, "Make people sit down for an hour on Sundays.” As you and your congregation reflect, explore why it is that you’d like for engagement to expand. Make sure that you’re more interested in the real lives and needs of potential members as you are about what benefit they might be to your church.
Pay attention to your emotional climate as a congregation. What does it feel like in your sanctuary on a Sunday morning? What is the attitude you are projecting? If we want people to share their heart and time with us, it’s important to be conscientious about the energy into which they’re being invited. Is it hopeful? Honest? Joyful? Is it tense? Bland? Resistant?
Take time to reflect upon what emotional climate you hope people would encounter when they step into your church, then do the work involved in creating that kind of space.
Double down on relationships — with God, with each other, and with the community. There is no shortcut to developing authentic, interdependent relationships. As churches, a unique offering we can provide is to be an environment where people are freed to be themselves and experience the full range of emotions — inside and outside of the sanctuary.
A worshipping community can be a place to engage in spiritual practices, serve and love the community, and support one another fully. Real relationships are transformative, and they are worth every minute of time invested.
It’s normal to want more people to come to your church. Take that desire and dig a little deeper. Approach the topic thoughtfully, and listen to the Spirit’s guidance along the way.
"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website emilyannecarson.com.