Category Archives: Worship

Ideas for reconnecting with members of your church family: Part 2

Last week, we talked about strategies for reaching out to people who have “disappeared” from your parish. Here, we’ll focus on parishioners who remain involved, but who could use a little inspiration during Lent. 

Last week, we talked about strategies for reaching out to people who have “disappeared” from your parish. Here, we’ll focus on parishioners who remain involved, but who could use a little inspiration. 

Revitalize your small groups

Many parish ministers and volunteers who meet online report that they’re suffering from “Zoom fatigue.” Are you seeing declining remote attendance for your ministry groups? Here are some ways you might help people beat that fatigue, and liven things up:

Invite a familiar guest

Ministries who meet online can benefit from a quick check-in with your parish spiritual leaders. You might arrange for your ministry leaders to spend ten minutes at the beginning or end of ministry meetings. They can offer a special blessing or some words of wisdom specific to the ministry. Or, they might simply use the time to listen to volunteers’ concerns and ideas for the parish. For many parishioners, just knowing a beloved pastor or clergy member will be participating at their next online meeting—even if it’s only for a few minutes—can be a great spiritual or social pick-me-up. 

Don’t forget fellowship

I attended an online parish ministry meeting over Christmas that wasn’t at our usual time. There was no agenda. There was no parish business to discuss. We wore silly hats and ugly sweaters and simply talked and shared our challenges and joys. Most important, we laughed together. That one unstructured meeting brought us together in a way that a year of meetings couldn’t come close to doing. Think about some parish ministries that could use a little unstructured fellowship time like this. Perhaps your Bible study groups could benefit from a virtual “Friday Fellowship” that’s purely social. Everyone can bring their own sandwich and beer to toast their friendship and spiritual growth. Consider using these Trivia Cards as discussion starters. Provide an inexpensive gift or prize to share—a bookmark, key tag or even a set of placemats can show your support. 

Help people take a step outside comfort zones.

Summer is all about shaking up our spiritual complacencies, so why not gently suggest your online groups to try something new? Bible study folks might read one of the narratives from the Psalm 23. Prayer groups might try a new topical study. Consider summer as a time to recalibrate for better living, such as Henri Nouwen inspired Art of [Christian] Living

Be specific about your gratitude.

If you haven’t done so in a while, take a minute to acknowledge and applaud your parish ministries for the good things they’ve done during quarantine. You might share a small token of your gratitude, but what’s really important here is the specific affirmation of the real things people have done. It can be as easy as writing a note on your parish website or sharing a video on social media. Share some of the specific ways ministries have adjusted their practices or made on-the-fly changes—ushers who learned how to direct traffic for parking lot worship, for example, or youth ministers who found creative ways for confirmation students to gather online. Who knows how your small expressions of gratitude will inspire other parishioners to take stock of their own lives and express their thanks to the Lord, who gives us everything we need?

ICYMI: Last week’s article on reconnecting with parishioners who have dropped out can be found here.

Connie Clark is the editor of Living Faith Kids and the author of numerous books and booklets for educators, families, and children.

Ideas for reconnecting with members of your church family: Part 1

The Ash Wednesday Scripture readings take on a whole new meaning this year as we think about the parishioners we haven’t seen in months. 

Depending on where you live, communities are trying to return to a “normal.” But, what does that look like for the Church? What does that look like for your church?

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart. –Joel 2:12

Sadly, we know that for every parishioner who’s livestreaming church at home or participating in online faith formation, there are others who, for one reason or another, have walked away from regular worship. In fact, recent studies indicate that nearly one in three practicing Christians hasn’t attended church—online, in person or in a parking lot—in the months since the pandemic began. They’ve essentially dropped out. So, how can we bring them back?

It’s not an easy question to answer. In this two-part series, we’ve collected some ideas to help you reach out, even if you’re short on staff or funds. Not every suggestion will work for every parish, but we hope they give you something to think about—or maybe they’ll spark other ideas. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section below. 

Connect the old-fashioned way

Remember phone trees? They might feel outdated in the digital age, but many parishes are adapting a form of them during COVID-19 by having staff or volunteers check in with folks over the phone. If you don’t have the time or staff, why not put some of your parish ministries or small groups on the task? Simply provide names and numbers for a set number of registered parishioners to these trusted volunteers. You’re not asking callers to solve people’s problems, but simply to provide a listening ear and a human connection to the parish community. Callers might ask some simple questions like: “How are you doing? What’s going on in your life? How can we pray for you? Do you need anything from the parish?” This can make a great summer outreach project for families or single people, but don’t give out phone numbers to just anyone. You’ll need carefully screened volunteers or parish staff for this.

Refocus each day

With everything going on in the world, folks need something uplifting to focus on every single day. Why not give a gift of inspirational reading? You might invite people to ponder “the boundless love of Christ” through the readings of the great spiritual master Henri Nouwen or offer reflections on Scripture readings to “illuminate the darkness with God’s saving light.” Then provide a digital forum for folks to share their own thoughts about the readings. You can simply include a place for comments on your parish website or social media platform or invite people to an online meeting to talk about it. Summer offers a great time to connect outdoors, perhaps a morning in the park is a great option for you.

Help people serve others online

You might have families or individuals connect with seniors in assisted living communities to read one short devotion per day or week to them remotely. Or tech-savvy grandparents in your parish might read kid-friendly devotions online to families with small children in your faith formation program. It only takes a few minutes each day, but it can have a big impact for everyone involved.

Even smaller small groups

Small groups can take a lot of logistics to organize, and you may already have several in your parish. But don’t overlook the power of smaller, informal groups of people with common interests or issues who connect with each other in prayer. They might be parents whose kids were baptized last year, adults who were baptized recently, or people caring for elderly or ill family members. Don’t worry about organizing online meetings—these groups can simply connect by text or email, sharing their prayer intentions and promising to pray for each other. For instance, I have two sons. I began an email group called Praying for our Sons with other parents in the parish. I send out an email once a week to remind everyone to set aside some time to pray for our guys. Parents might ask for extra prayers when their sons are applying to college, getting married, or simply going through tough times. If you’d like to encourage groups like this at your parish, you might remind people to connect each week with a greeting card or other small token, like the “do small things with great love” pocket coin. Informal prayer groups like these are great ways to partner with your people as they evangelize within their own circles of influence.

More ideas? Share them here!

Next week: Reaching out to people in online ministries.

Connie Clark is the editor of Living Faith Kids and the author of numerous books and booklets for educators, families, and children. 

The Drifters

two in pewIn his letter in the Summer 2017 Concordia Seminary magazine, Seminary president Dale A. Meyer makes an interesting observation. He says, “Some people come to worship rain or shine; almost nothing keeps them away. Others, sadly, have walked away from worship and don’t readily return. In the middle, between the always-come and never-come, are those who come but could drift away” (“From the President,” Concordia Seminary magazine, Summer 2017, p. 5).

Let’s call this group the drifters. What causes someone to become a worship drifter? I know for me, the rub comes on Sunday morning when you are cozy in bed and just want to sleep some more. So you drift off to sleep and skip church. For others it is other commitments and activities on Sunday morning that have taken precedence over worship. Sports practices, Sunday brunches, or shopping that needs to get done all can conspire to draw people away from worship. It does not take much for the drift to happen. Even a change in worship time can cause people to bolt.

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backchannelsAnother new reality of communication that Pastor Matt Peeples reveals is: Backchannels are always open. What are backchannels, you ask? They are the conversations behind the conversations that are always going on in our digital age.

I have seen this in play at conferences and other meetings where they even encourage backchannel engagement in real time by announcing a hashtag with the conference name or meeting locale for people to use to converse on Twitter about what is happening at various sessions.

I also see this at play within the comments sections below a post or a video link. People’s reactions, good or bad, are exchanged and discussed, and we as the viewer become privy to these interchanges, if we like it or not.

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Embracing Informality

emojisAnother new reality of communication outlined by Pastor Matt Peeples is that communication is becoming increasingly informal. The formal memos are gone, the business letters on crisp parchment paper are no longer needed. Important business matters are now commonly related through mass emails often containing emoticons. Instant messages are used to call meetings and gather information. We can get texts from our bosses any time of day or night. The rules of grammar and spelling and complete sentences are no longer seen as too necessary. Many words are shortened.

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The Church in Action

church in actionAnd they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. —Acts 2:42-47

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shining crossI found it interesting that both Publishers Weekly and Christianity Today mentioned the Ennegram system in their most recent issues. “Most simply, the Ennegram is a system of categorizing people with a number—one through nine—that represents a core motivation or orientation to others and the world,” the Christianity Today article reported (Christianity Today, November 2016, 56). (See also “What It Means to Be Christian,” Publishers Weekly, October 24, 2016, 21.)

At some point in our lives we have all taken a personality or spiritual gifts survey to indicate what our strongest traits are. What is making the Ennegram system different and so appealing to churches nationwide is that it gets to the heart of why people do what they do. The nine categories are as follows:

  1. I want to be good.
  2. I want to be needed.
  3. I want to achieve.
  4. I want to be unique.
  5. I want to think things through.
  6. I want to be safe.
  7. I want to have fun.
  8. I want to be in charge.
  9. I want to be a peace.

As I type each of these categories, my mind instantly goes to certain people I know and to myself. “That is so him.” “That is so her.” “That is so me.” The designers of the system grant that each one of us is a mixture of several numbers, but suggest that if you are a certain number you often become blind to the motivations of those are are another number.

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House Churches

house churchAs we gather in our homes this Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the concept of “house churches,” which has had somewhat of a resurgence in our world as of late, mostly in China and in other places where Christians are being persecuted. House churches are defined groups of Christians who regularly gather for worship in private homes. The group may be part of a larger Christian body, such as a parish, but some have been independent groups that see the house church as the primary form of Christian community.

I recently talked with Jim Buckman, a missionary-at-large and a church planter in the New Jersey area, who explained that his approach to building churches was to start in the home. People feel more comfortable in their homes, they are surrounded by loved ones, and they are not caught up the structure of the organized church.

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Is Worship Too Safe?

padded pewIn The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton contends that most churches like worship services that are safe. He argues that  we have created false dangers about worship that have limited what worship can be, causing us not to worship as fully as we could. Here are the false dangers he sees at work:

False Danger #1: Worship That Is Not Under Control

Worship services are very orderly these days, lasting almost exactly one hour and usually following a very regular routine. I for one like the order and routine of worship, but when that is what becomes more important than the the Gospel message that is said or sung in worship, then there is a problem.

False Danger #2: Worship That Doesn’t Seem Relevant

The desire to be relevant to today’s culture has led to the use of screens, IPads and contemporary music in worship, which in and of themselves are not bad. But when our goal is to be relevant rather than true to the Gospel, then the essential role of worship has been lost. Continue reading →

The Community Connection

An article in the March/April 2016 Outreach talked a program called Aspire! Conservatory of Fine and Performing Arts at Ashland First United Methodist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. It is a resource made available by and at the church in which children attend piano classes and private lessons for band instruments. While there is a cost for the lessons, donations from members keep the program running.

What is remarkable is that In the process, the community comes in contact with the church and becomes more aware of the worship and devotional life of the congregation. Many children in the classes even play their instruments in worship and become involved in the life of the church. In many ways, the program is raising uo the next generation of worship leaders and often helping their parents recognize the value of a Christian environment.

“Using the church building five evenings a week, our church comes alive in the eyes of the community, ” said DeNiel Hartley, the administrator of Aspire!

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