Rethinking church as we’ve always done it

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A note from a pastor — Over the last couple of weeks, churches have begun to lay out their plans for the fall. Some churches have elected to come back to a more traditional “big” gathering environment, some have chosen drive-in style worship, and some have chosen to not return in a “big” gathering for the remainder of the year.

These decisions are really tough. Before I continue, I want to take a moment and recognize all the leaders in our community. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a government official, an employer, a coach, or chair of your community bingo hall- thank you for leading during this tough time. I applaud you. No one alive has ever led at a time like this … ever.

If there is anyone that says they know the answer without a doubt … they’d be lying. In my line of work, I’ve seen pastors leveraging scripture to shame another church for opening or closing; that’s not helpful and more importantly, not accurate.

I digress. The reason I am writing today is to put on paper how my heart has been shifting over the last couple of weeks. Sunday July 26th our church announced to the congregation that we would not meet in a big gathering setting through the rest of the year. This is just what our church has come to. It may not be the answer for your church and that is OK.

I really struggled with this decision because I like people. I hear pastors from all over struggling with some of the same stuff. We all are feeling in a a COVID funk. I mean, there are times I have felt useless and without purpose. It’s hard to minister to people when there are no people around.

That brings me back to the decision. It was so hard for me to grasp not meeting in a big gathering setting for the rest of the year. I fought it, I spoke, I debated, and I debated again … and then I finally shut up and listened.

We have a saying in our church, we want to help people let go of religion and rediscover Jesus. It became clear that I needed more of that in my life. You see, I believe the church in America is broken. Churches everywhere already run Sunday-heavy ministries and look at what we produce:

• Average church in America baptizes 1 person a year

• 96% of church growth is transfer growth (people leaving one church for another)

• Regular attenders of church (3 or more Sundays a month) have decreased to about 20% of the population.

• The next generation is leaving the church at a faster rate than ever before.

I could keep going but I won’t. If we are making the argument the church needs to hurry up and get back to that, then we need to get some bigger goals in our life. That system is failing the next generation at an alarming rate! There has to be more!

What if in the midst of all of this, God is working to help us shed our addiction to Sunday morning? To show us how big His church can really be? What if in the midst of a small gathering amongst friends or even just family, there was a still small voice of God saying, “There is something bigger I want to do amongst my Church than just a Sunday morning.”

The fastest-growing church in the world is in Iran right now. The backbone of it is teenage girls leading small pockets of their communities — not big gatherings. I’m not saying it’s the way foreword forever ( I miss big gatherings too) … I’m just trying to lean into what God could be teaching all of us right now.

I saw a pastor the other day make a viral post that was dividing people saying, “Pastors who don’t open their church doors are cowards. The power of Christianity is in our gatherings.” The power of Christianity is in our gatherings? Really?! Man, I hope that’s not true. I’ve been a part of some sucky gatherings! I think the early church would disagree with that as well. In fact, their gatherings looked completely different!

You see, I believe the power of the Jesus movement isn’t some awesome music, a building, a meeting of people for a traditional Americanized service, or even some powerful sermon — it’s love.

It’s this crazy type of love that transcends Sunday … well, it’s supposed to. Paul says it this way, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Not through a service … through love. I promise, what the world needs right now is more of that love … not more of those services.

With that said, I have no idea what I am doing. I’m pumped up with our new path for the rest of the year, but I completely get it and understand if your church has chosen a different way. No hard feelings!

In our context, it works for us. I’m just trying to figure out how to love the people in my life a little bit more like Jesus and I realize now that I don’t need a service to do that. I want to shed any part of me that is caught up in religion and just go after Jesus. I’m starting to understand that in those moments that I feel without purpose or that I’m far from God, maybe my purpose and my understanding of God was tied to a Sunday service and that probably wasn’t healthy to begin with.

With love,

Shelby Barker, pastor

The Gathering

Senoia, Ga.