When I asked my followers on twitter whether or not they were seeing new to church people at their in person meetings, 13.1% said that they hadn’t seen any new people at all. I can’t really ignore that part of the poll, so wanted to share some thoughts here. That’s not least because if you were taking part in the poll or read yesterday’s article and fall into that category you will have had an emotional response to the question. So first of all, if you are not seeing any new people at church, here’s not what to do.
Don’t despair or respond in guilt and shame
The purpose of the question was not to cause guilt or shame. There are couple of things to say here. For some of you, there’s been engagement with non-Christians throughout COVID You’ve had people attending your online meetings, you’ve run Alpha courses and Christianity Explored, you’re aware of church members having fantastic opportunities to talk with and pray with people but you aren’t seeing that lead to people coming to church yet and as far as you know, there haven’t been conversions.
It’s also true that some of you will have poured out your energy into evangelism, corporately and personally over the last 18 months and are not seeing any indications of growth. Indeed, you may never see growth specifically from this period.
This isn’t particularly different to normal church life. Think back, there’ve been times prior to COVID where you’ve been seeing lots of people coming to church, professing faith and getting baptised. Those times will have coincided with other churches having put in the same effort for the same amount of time having lots of people engaged but not seeing fruit. Then at other times the roles will have been reversed. Similarly, it can sometimes feel like you are putting the work in and you see no return whilst other churches seem to be seeing people come to faith effortlessly.
And part of that is that we don’t always see the harvest from our own efforts but instead we harvest where others have sown. I was part of a church once where we were persistent in evangelism locally but we also had opportunities to share the good news with tourists and visitors to the area. For a time we didn’t seem to see local conversions, our growth came from people moving into the area. However, I am confident that our evangelism did play its part in people coming to faith and joining churches elsewhere.
It’s important to remember that we are part of the wider family of believers. The growth of the kingdom is of far greater importance than the growth of our own local church. This reminds us that we are working for Christ and his kingdom not for our own reputation or brand.
Don’t ignore the situation without asking serious questions
You see, I think that it is important for us to reflect on our fruitfulness. It is right that we ask some questions about what we are doing. It is also possible that
- Some churches will see no new believers during COVID because they didn’t find ways to share the Gospel during the pandemic. It’s important then to consider whether this was simply because you weren’t equipped for that season (e.g. with technology) or because it reflects longer term issues in terms of being outward looking with the Gospel,
- Some churches will see no new believers because there are issues with the message you communicated. Have you been clearly communicating the Gospel? Has there been something worth coming for? Indeed, it may have been possible to provide online content that was interesting or even soothing during the pandemic but didn’t draw people to the Gospel.
- Some churches will see no new believers from the pandemic period because as people began to get to know you, even online, there was something about your church culture that discouraged and even repelled rather than drew people in. It is so important that our culture and not just our doctrine is saturated in the grace and loving kindness of God.
- Some churches will be seeing no new people because you’ve not invited them. Do people know that they are welcome to join you? Are the next steps clear?
Can I encourage you, without it becoming a matter of shame and guilt to consider those questions and have honest conversations together. It is perhaps worth doing this even if you have seen new people as it may be that there are people who you are not seeing because of some of these issues.
Above all, remember that Christ is the Lord of the harvest and he is the one who is building his kingdom.