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COMMENTARY: Churches need to reconnect with people displaced by COVID-19

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By Tom Crites

Meet George Jetson (da-da-da, de-da-da-da), yes, that theme song is so catchy yet the only words in the song are the names of the family. I find myself often whistling it around my office. It is so jazzy, you cannot help but tap a toe when you hear it.

Sixty years ago, The Jetsons arrived in American homes, a funny cartoon tha predicted what normal life would look like in the future. When the COVID pandemic arrived in the U.S., some things in church life that were coming down the pipe were accelerated to our reality out of necessity, giving us a glimpse of the future of church. Many of the things we did during the pandemic, we will and should continue.

I have written about some of these; the importance of clarification of where online ministries fit in church life and the leveraging of those online ministries in the last two articles.  This is the third article discussing what I have called “Jetson Church.”

Do you remember 2020 Easter? You probably were not physically in church Easter Sunday. I was not either. As a matter of fact, nearly 93% of all churches had stopped having in person services by Easter in 2020. On one hand, pastors were scrambling to put together some sort of meaningful online experience to share while on the other hand they were worried about staying connected to the flock. Some had the resources to do both, but many had to make a choice. I interviewed a few pastors of churches that seemed to thrive during 2020. These churches saw either no decrease or surprisingly, an increase in the number of people baptized and the number of people added as new members during the pandemic. Most of the pastors interviewed shared how staying connected to the flock or “member care” became a priority.

During the pandemic, these pastors led their leaders to proactively connect or in some cases re-connect with every person in the church. Sunday school teachers, deacons, elders, Bible study leaders, ministerial staff all made calls to their anxious folks speaking prayers and encouraging words. Several of the pastors interviewed shared how this was huge for their ministries. They shared how people that had been disconnected for years had been brought back into the body. One pastor shared, “some prayed to receive Christ, some recommitted themselves to God, almost all prayed for strength. Everyone appreciated the call.”

“Member care” is what we used to call care group ministry in the 90’s. In many churches, Sunday school classes were divided up into care groups which were encouraged to contact every member every week. Some of the classes took the practice seriously and maintained close contact with members and some did not. It was a system that helped ministry staff stay on top of needs that came up.  At my church, we would often hear of a person in the hospital, a family in need, or an opportunity to serve from our care groups.

I believe a member care like strategy should become a core ministry of the church moving forward. Coming out of the pandemic, every Georgia Baptist pastor should take time to organize member care in his church. To do this, a pastor must change the way he thinks about his membership roll or Sunday school membership. He has to look at this list of people as a ministry list, considering it the list of people he is committed to ministering to. Looking at the roll in this way does a couple of things for the pastor and his church. First, it flips the obligations. No longer does he look at the list as members who are obligated to come and participate or resented when they do not come, but he sees the list as a group of people he promises to minister to. These folks will be prayed for, invited to events, cared for. I estimate that currently half the people on our current membership list never get prayed for. This will fix that issue. Second, the people’s perspective is flipped from internally focused to externally focused. Not only will the church be able to care for the flock that enters the building, but they will discover ways to care for those that remain absent from the building. The best prospects for the church might already be on the church membership roll. Where else will one find a list of people sorted into age groups, living in the neighborhood, who at one time felt becoming a member of the church was important.

I hear some saying “well, so and so will never come back…” Yes, that may be true. But it is not true of every person on the roll. Go and find the ones that will re-connect. Make member care a priority.

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