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The church is ready for post-pandemic world

I looked around at a full church last Sunday on Easter.

By all accounts, the one I attended was pretty full, compared to weeks previous. So were many around the community, the state, and the country last week.

While Easter Sunday will do that at most church services, last week’s was extra special. Last year — weeks into the COVID-19 shutdown of most everything across the country, but most certainly here in Michigan — Easter was a time when most of us only had the internet to connect to an empty sanctuary. Easter was a holiday celebrated mostly alone.

It has been a long year. A lot has happened. For many of us, it has been a time that tested our souls. Too often, it seemed all hope had been lost.

But not so six days ago, on Easter Sunday.

On that day, hope was indeed stronger than ever before, and from the smiles on people’s faces after they sat and removed their masks in their pews, it was a glorious feeling.

I was surprised, then, just a day later, to read a Forbes report “that for the first time in Gallup poll history, fewer than 50 percent of Americans said they belonged to a house of worship.”

This year, just 47 percent answered affirmatively to that question.

To put things more into perspective, Gallup officials have been conducting polling on various subjects in the U.S. for 80 years. Back in 1937, the report stated that 73% belonged to a church. Even heading into a new century, church attendance hovered near 70%.

While I do not discount those polling numbers, I also am not willing to totally embrace them, either. I look at churches around the country that my family members, for instance, attend, and I am amazed at the numbers of church attenders they generate at multiple services each Sunday.

I believe that what the polling numbers show is a lack of commitment that people have today to church membership. There are people — in fact, plenty of people — attending churches and filling pews each week. However, many of those people are just not ready — for whatever reason — to commit fully to that church as a member.

At my local church, we have maintained strong numbers through either in-person attendance or livestreaming throughout this pandemic. While not everything is 100% back to normal, as it was prior to March of last year, various ministries keep coming back each month.

And I believe we — like many churches — have really tried hard to be creative in establishing connections between people and the church over the past 12 months. While those attenders who were committed probably have remained, for those on the fringes with attendance, it has perhaps become easier to stay away.

As more and more people become vaccinated and COVID-19 numbers hopefully start to decline again, I hope to see more and more institutions return to the way they used to operate — including church ministries like small group studies and Bible fellowships.

I acknowledge that there is going to have to be a whole lot of work ahead for many church leaders to restore programs and bring people back into the church. Then again, if there is anything that we’ve learned during these 12 months, it is that the church isn’t really brick and mortar — it’s about people and relationships.

And, maybe, that is the real takeaway from this. I believe that most of us are on a search in our lives. We are searching for truth, for an anchor when life gets crazy, and for relationships that are meaningful. Those items are not found in a building, no matter how beautiful or large it might be.

Those things can only be found when one person takes time to care about another. Those things occur when someone extends a hand to someone in need, when another shows love to a person that society has cast aside as unworthy.

I believe the church in America has a lot it needs to do as the world continues to come out of the pandemic.

But I also am a firm believer that a revival of new commitment and personal relationships with God is going to emerge worldwide in numbers that could be astounding as people try to return to normal again.

When I looked across the church pews Easter Sunday, I did not see a seat here and there that might have been empty.

What I saw were seats soon ready to be filled.

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