Monthly Archives: October 2022

A Halloween Message That’s No Trick, all Treat

Since today is Halloween, I give you these ten verses (please insert your name when a Biblical name or place is given):

Genesis 15:1: “Do not be afraid, _______ (Abram). I am your shield, your very great reward.”
Genesis 21:17: “What is the matter, _______ (Hagar)? Do not be afraid; God has heard ….”
2 Chronicles 20:15: “Listen, _______ (King Jehoshaphat) and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
Jeremiah 46:27: “Do not be afraid, _______ (Jacob) my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel. I will surely save you out of a distant place.”
Joel 2:21: “Do not be afraid, _______ (land of Judah); be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things!”
Luke 1:13: “Do not be afraid, _______ (Zechariah); your prayer has been heard.”
Luke 1:30: “Do not be afraid, _______ (Mary); you have found favor with God.”
Luke 5:10: Then Jesus said to _______ (Simon), “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
Luke 8:50: Jesus said to _______ (Jairus), “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
John 12:15: “Do not be afraid, _______ (Daughter Zion); see, your king is coming,”

The personalize version of those aforementioned verses are still true. My friends, hear this from the Lord: DO NOT BE AFRAID. Someone has said that the words “Fear Not” appear 365 times in the Bible (once for each day of the year). I haven’t counted them, so I will assume it’s true (or close enough). Whether there are 365 daily reminders or not, the message repeatedly given in the Bible is this: DO NOT BE AFRAID.

We are living in such fearful times. There’s more fear now than ever in my lifetime. People are…

  • afraid of the tanking economy; 
  • afraid they can’t afford the basics of life
  • afraid of what will happen to your 403b; 
  • afraid that the opposing political party (not yours) will win the election; 
  • afraid that Russia might use a nuclear bomb; 
  • afraid of anyone not like themselves; 
  • afraid of getting sick; 
  • afraid of getting old; 
  • afraid of being alone; 
  • afraid of crowds; 
  • afraid for your children; 
  • afraid that the world is changing into something they do not like; 
  • afraid of so many, many things. 

Followers of Christ should be the least fearful people on the planet. Read that last sentence again. Slowly if you must. Followers of Jesus know their future. Followers of Jesus know that God wins in the end. Followers of Jesus know that He is with us wherever we go. Followers of Jesus are never alone. Followers of Jesus are infused with the Holy Spirit’s power. Followers of Jesus are children of the King. Followers of Jesus know He is coming again. The Psalmist said it best: The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

Hear those repeated words again, this is no trick. It’s all treat on this Halloween and every other day of the year: FEAR NOT!

Stop Blaming the Pandemic

When they said, “There is no toilet paper because of the pandemic.” 
I said, “No problem. Grandma always said “I could use the Sears and Roebuck catalog in such emergencies.”  (Of course, granny didn’t know that one day paper catalogs would only be found in museums).

When they said, “This pandemic has caused a silicon chip shortage, which has left thousands of trucks parked all around Flint.” 
I said, “I’m glad those empty parking lots are being used.”

But when I walked into Walmart yesterday morning, two years and seven months after the Pandemic started, only to discover there was not one Hot Tamale candy in the store, I said, “OK this pandemic blaming business has gone too far.”

It seems the poor pandemic gets blamed for everything these days. Supply chain shortage? Blame the pandemic. Rising costs? Blaming the pandemic. Church attendance has dropped off a cliff in America. Blame the pandemic. Bible reading is down. It must be the pandemic. Prayer is not happening. Three words: Blame. The. Pandemic. But is the pandemic the cause of this rapid decline? I’m not so sure.

Yesterday I also went to the dentist. Not because of my love for Hot Tamales, I hadn’t been there since 2019 (don’t @ me… I’ve had some bad dental experiences). Was this going to be another bad experience? No sooner had I sat down in the dentist’s chair, the song over the intercom was, “Another One Bites the Dust.” I kid you not. Yikes! I wanted to run, but I stayed. My dentist is nice. Although this Prince needs a crown. Ugh. Maybe it was the Hot Tamales.  

In my head, I’ve blamed the pandemic for my dental visit hiatus. But the truth of the matter is: I don’t like going to the dentist. I’ve had some bad experiences (Did I mention that? Ok, good. It’s true). I didn’t want to go, even though I knew I needed to go. I know all about good dental hygiene. I simply used the pandemic as my excuse. 

All polling data confirms what we all know: Church attendance, Bible reading and prayer are at all-time lows. Maybe folks are like me and the dentist. They know life’s better when they go to church, read their Bible and pray, but they aren’t doing them. Maybe it’s been convenient to use the pandemic as an excuse. Maybe once out of the habit of these practices, it was easy to quit doing them all together. Maybe they’ve convinced themselves, that on-line church is just as good (Psst… it’s not); that Bible reading and prayer are optional (Psst… they’re not); and that the pandemic has revealed that there are far too many hypocrites in the church (Psst, that one is probably true, but like the old joke says, we can always use one more– Place a smiley emoji here).  

Let’s not blame the pandemic for every societal ill, and let’s not use it for an excuse. Let’s determine that our spiritual well-being is up to us. Pandemic or no pandemic. When able, I hope you will return to the to those spiritual practices that bring strength, hope, power and love. I hope you see things as the Psalmist did three thousand years ago, when he wrote: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

If “Take Your Bible to the Voting Booth” is too much, try this

Maybe you’ve heard it said, “Take your Bible into the voting booth.” The sentiment is: we need to vote our moral convictions. For me, living in Michigan, that means a NO VOTE on Prop 3 that would legalize abortions and allow many other things of which I would not agree. 

OK, that’s great take your Bible into the voting booth.  Amen. Amen.

But how about taking your Bible with you….

  • When going to work or school—Our Bible (and our understanding of the Truth of God) should affect the way we talk and how we spend your time 
  • When on social media and scrolling endlessly through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tic Toc
  • When shopping on-line or in a mall. How we spend our money is important.
  • When commenting to those you disagree with on social media.
  • When filling out your taxes. No short cuts, little white lies or “overlooking” a few things.
  • When talking with your spouse, children or parents.
  • When dealing with people you disagree with on politics or life choices

Don’t just take your Bible with you in the voting booth. Let your Bible guide in all the endeavors of your life.

Is “taking your Bible with you” too overwhelming to imagine? There are 66 books and two testaments to research. Maybe it’s too much to thumb through in a voting booth. What would happen if we just said, “let the Sermon on the Mount be our guide.” Take the Sermon on the Mount into the voting booth and every where else? Still too much? Let’s make it even easier. Let’s begin with just the first third (roughly) of the Sermon on the Mount. Let’s just master Matthew 5, before moving on. If we just focused on Matthew 5… 

  • We’d see that the people blessed aren’t the high and mighty or the powerful and rich, but the poor in spirit, the meek, those that mourn, the peacemakers, the persecuted and those that hunger and thirst after righteousness
  • We’d be salt and light in our dark world (NOTE: Not “salty.” There are too many “salty” Christians, which has the opposite effect Jesus was endorsing.)
  • We’d be careful about the names and labels we put on people (Includes those who have wronged you) 
  • We’d work to be reconciled to those of whom we have something against (this also includes those who have wronged you)
  • We’d know that adultery isn’t just the behavior but adultery includes our lustful thoughts and what we put into our mind (hello Instagram and Tic Toc). 
  • We’d know how much God values our marriages and how important it is to watch what we say and the vows we make. (Whatever happened to keeping those words, “for better or worse”?)
  • We’d learn we have to turn the other cheek when wronged and not seek revenge.
  • We’d be generous. Want my jacket? Have the shirt off my back.
  • We’d love even our enemies. (That includes loving all those who have reached completely opposite conclusions about life, politics, the Bible, sexual identity, abortion rights, you name it).
  • We’d be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect

That’s just Matthew 5. Let’s work on all of those things. Let’s take all of those admonitions into the voting booth and work place and school. When you’ve achieved Matthew 5:48 (“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”), then we will move on to Matthew 6. 

P.S. It might take a while.

The Six Things I hate. No, Make it Seven…

Do you remember in Proverbs 6 where the Lord says there are six things God hates, no make it seven? Well, there are the six things I hate, no make it seven.

1) I hate snow in October. “You live in Michigan,” they say. “Expect snow,” they say. “If you were in Florida, it would be hurricanes; in California, its earthquakes; but you live in Michigan. It snows.” “They” (whoever “they” are) bring me no comfort.

2) I hate political ads. Someone please put an end to the commercials where one candidate is in a 1950’s black and white photo of him/her looking like Sir Graves Ghastly (You had to grow up in Detroit in the 60’s and 70’s to know him. Trust me, it’s not a good look), while the other candidate is in a beautiful, colorful, Glamor-shot pose, grinning from ear to ear like her/his rich Uncle George died and left him/her all his loot. Next commercial is the same dance, only the candidates switch places. Ugh! Enough already!

3) I hate inflation. Did I tell you that my Donna’s donut now costs a buck ninety-five? One donut? Not a half dozen. One. Pretty soon I’ll have to take out a loan to get my Sunday-morning-sugar-fix. 

4)I hate how angry people seem to be these days. We’ve got this one life to live. Why be angry? Why go through life with a chip the size of Montana on your shoulder?  Why not look for the good in people? Why not assume the best? Why not exchange angry words with kind ones? Why not return curses with blessings? Why not choose to exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit? Why not be, you know, Christ-like!!!

5) I hate how focusing on things I hate turns me into a (pick one): complainer, grumbler, whiner, moaner, malcontent, nitpicker, fault finder, or unhappy grouch. I’d rather be known for the things I love than the things I hate.

6) I hate lists of things I hate. I know what you are thinking… how ironic.

and the one you’ve been waiting for…. Drum roll please… #7: I hate that too many Christians are living defeated lives. Too many good folks focus on the problems and all the things they hate (see above), instead of the God’s love. They’ve become all the things listed in #5 (also see above). Usually the hate-inducing things/people are circumstances over which they have no control. They can’t change it. They just hate it. Often these defeated followers of Jesus are more discipled by news channels who tell viewers who to hate, how to hate, and when to hate, rather than Jesus who tells us who to love (everybody); how to love (by all means necessary) and when to love (all the time). Instead of hate lists, Paul wrote:  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

There are plenty of things to complain about in this old world, but instead let’s “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!” (Hebrews 12:2) 

Execute or Die

For a person on death row the word “execution” means the end is near.
For a person in leadership the word “execution” means without itthe organization’s end is near.

There are times when leaders (church leaders included) need to pull the trigger and execute a plan. Dr. Gregg Chenoweth, at ONU’s recent trustees’ meeting, quoted an old saying attributed to Machiavelli: “A wise man does at the beginning what a foolish man does at the end.” 

It’s all about Execution.

The wise person, on perceiving a problem or becoming aware of an impending issue, will do what needs to be done to soften the problem’s impact. After some reflection and planning, the wise person will quickly and decisively authorize a plan to accomplish the desired solution to the problem or at the very least mitigate its affect.

The fool, on the other hand, becoming aware of a problem will delay, dilly dally, ponder, think, stew, form committees, contemplate a little more and otherwise waste time. Naturally, the problem grows unchecked. Finally, when immediate action is absolutely unavoidable, the fool will act. 

What could have been solved easily and quickly is now a life-and-death struggle. 

In the life of the church, it’s easy to put off for tomorrow what could be done today. Don’t upset the apple cart, someone might say. Don’t risk it. Play it safe. What will those “paying the bills” think? Don’t take chances. Don’t execute any change until absolutely necessary. I’ve seen a fearful lack of execution on all levels in the church– local, district and global. 

Here’s the problem: if we don’t change, we die. (I’m talking changing methods not message). Orthodoxy changes not. Orthopraxy may adjust as culture and society changes. “Why we do what we do” does not change. “How we do it” has to change if we are to remain relevant and effective. 

Wonder why churches and denominations are dying? A failure to define and execute a plan to overcome today’s challenges. Thinking yesterday’s methods will work in today’s world is a recipe for tomorrow’s demise.

Paul’s words to the Corinthian church should be ours: “I have become ALL things to ALL people so that by ALL possible means I might save some.I do ALL this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 CAPS mine). Why the caps on ALL? To emphasize we must reach ALL people, doing whatever is necessary in these challenging days, “for the sake of the gospel.” In other words, we must EXECUTE a plan of action. Try. Take Risks. Maybe fail. Try again. Try again. Try again. Until ALL know.

That’s why I love that CENTRAL CHURCH has taken time to define our Mission and Core Commitments. Our Mission: Connecting People to Jesus. Our Core Commitments: 1) Jesus Changes Everything; 2) We are Better Together; and 3) Be the Best Neighbor.

Now let’s reach ALL for Christ!

The Next General Superintendent Should Be like These Five Things Plus

In 8 months, the Church of the Nazarene will be electing two new General Superintendents at the General Assembly in Indianapolis. What kind of leaders do we need?  Here’s my attempt to describe the perfect General Superintendent (GS).

The next G.S. must be like…

1. The James Webb Space Telescope. This telescope has caught a glimpse of Earendel, the most distant star known in the universe. We need a leader that can see things far, far away and use that knowledge to help navigate our future.

2. The 1915 Çanakkale Bridge. Located in Turkey, this is the longest suspension bridge in the world. The Church of the Nazarene needs a leader who can bridge the divide between boomers and Gen Zers; Pure Wesleyans and American Holiness Movement adherents; USA/Canada and the rest of the world; allies and partners; liturgy and Pentecostalism-ish; first world and third world; NBC and NTS; black and white; English and non-English and every other gap in our church. Is there a person alive who can bridge all these gaps? Probably not, but wouldn’t it be nice if there were such a leader.

3. Tesla. The automobile company is known for innovation. The Church of the Nazarene sometimes feels like a 1957 Studebaker. An out-of-date jalopy that looks nice in museums but can’t keep up with today’s technology or life in the modern world. We need innovative leaders not people who get elected and quickly fall into the same systems, biases and mindsets.

4. Breville Juice Fountain Cold Plus Juicer. This machine is purported to be the best machine for squeezing juice out of a lemon. The Church of the Nazarene will need such tenacity as dollars dry up from old, dying churches in the USA/Canada. With the aging USA/Canada church supplying 94% (at least) of the World Evangelism Funds (WEF), the new GS will need to squeeze as much missional life out of each dollar raised.

5. Graphene. This is the strongest substance known to mankind. In these challenging times, we need strong leaders. Stronger than ever. These new leaders need to know who we are and why we are the way we are; then have the strength to articulate this at District Assemblies, pastor’s gatherings, various mission fields and in all publications. 

All of the aforementioned items are new (or new-ish). The Church of the Nazarene facing the future needs an equally fresh renewal. We need new ideas, new methods, as we preach Jesus and make Christ-like disciples. But above all the landmarks and gadgets, let’s elect the most Jesus-like ordained elders we could possibly find. This individual might not be leading a great church, region or institution, instead we find him/her feeding the hungry, caring for the outcast, and loving the unlovable. Let’s locate the elder who seems the most likely to wash the feet of a traitor and notice the pennies of a widow. Let’s pray for a leader who waits by the road longing for the long, lost ones and shows mercy to the curmudgeons who have stuck around brooding. Pray that we find, elect and give the keys to 17001 Prairie Star Parkway, Lenexa, Kansas to leaders who look a lot like Jesus.

What’s Next?

Spiritual Renewal is done. Dan and Denise Boone are driving back to Nashville. Jon Nicholas and the band are back in Warren. Our children’s workers are heading to Indiana for a wedding. Deb and Roy Pruitt who provided our wonderful free meals, hopefully have their feet up and are relaxing. Our facility crew are getting the rooms ready for Sunday School. And you and me?  What’s next for you and me?

Maybe we can learn from the big spiritual event in the life of Jesus prior to the crucifixion. What happened on the Mount of Transfiguration was bigger than the feeding of 5,000 people and even raising Lazarus from the dead. If Moses (dead and buried for 1300 years) and Elijah (not dead but gone for 850 years) are hanging out with Jesus, then that qualifies as a really big deal. It’s spiritual renewal on steroids.

Peter, who had gone up on the mountain with Jesus, James and John and had a front row seat to the happenings, was wanting to build a retreat center and stay on the mountain forever. But Jesus doesn’t have time to answer Peter’s missing-the-point request. Instead, God Almighty made a booming declaration, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). Bad English alert: Clearly, there ain’t much things bigger than that. 

How does Jesus respond to this proclamation? He doesn’t flex his muscles or bask in the announcement. Instead, to the now-face-in-the-dirt disciples, he said, “Don’t be afraid,” and proceeded to head down the mountain.

What awaited them at the bottom of the mountain was as far removed as possible from what had taken place at the top.  There Jesus was confronted with the gritty, life dilemma of a frazzled dad, his demonic son and the nine powerless disciples who had not been on the mountaintop with Jesus. Jesus went from Moses, Elijah, and a Booming Heavenly Voice to a kid full of the devil and lousy followers. Whew. Talk about a change of atmospheres.

Following Spiritual renewal week, maybe what you are facing (at work, school or home) is a change of atmosphere too. Your situation might seem as distant from our Spiritual Renewal “mountain top” as what was happening in Matthew 17. If you are going from a “Transfiguration mountain-top experience” to a gritty, messy home, work or school situation –what do you do? Or back to the original question: What’s next?   

Let’s do what Jesus did. Jesus stepped off the mountain, walked into the mess and brought hope and peace. Let’s do what the song we learned in Vacation Bible School years ago told us to do. Let this “little light of mine” shine. It’s not to be hid under a bushel the song says. Neither should this little light of mine simply shine and enjoy the sunlight, where it makes no difference if it is shining or not (read: sitting around enjoying the glow of spiritual renewal or in Peter’s case, building a retreat center on the mountaintop). This little light of mine is meant to be taken into the darkness. It’s letting our little light shine into gloom, loneliness and busyness of this old world. It’s going and doing where Jesus would go.

What’s next after Spiritual renewal? It’s you and me following Jesus down the mountain and into our messy, needy world. It’s obeying God Almighty from the mountaintop, “Listen to him!” Additionally, James reminds us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). It’s letting our light brightly shine—that’s what’s next.

But You said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Spiritual Renewal” can be summed up in this verse: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

It’s a great verse, right? 

At Olivet, a statue has been commissioned (and paid for by a donor) to be placed in the quad looking toward the chapel. At the base of the statue will be the words from Jeremiah 6:16. The point being made: Olivet’s students are at a crossroads, if they look toward Jesus and walk in the Jesus way, they will discover peace and rest for their souls, hearts and lives. It’s a wonderfully hopeful verse.

The first part of that verse, that is.

I didn’t put the rest of the verse 16 in the quote above. I’m pretty sure Olivet isn’t sticking it on the statue either. The last part of the verse is not inspiring. It’s heartbreaking. It reads: But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

In other words…
But you said, “Thanks but no thanks.”
But you said. “I’m doing it my way.” (Frank Sinatra might have sung it first, but he’s not the last)

It’s Saul “who set up a monument in his own honor.” 1 Samuel 15:12
It’s the rich young ruler who “went away sad because he had great wealth.” Matthew 19:22
It’s Demes who “loved this world” and deserted Paul. 2 Timothy 4:10

It’s you and me when we know the way and refuse to walk in it. 
It’s you and me when we need to forgive and we say, “never.”
It’s you and me when we greedily hang on to what “is ours.”
It’s you and me who are instructed to love one another, yet refuse to even talk with one another.
It’s you and me who stubbornly dig in our heals and say, “unless I get my way, Lord, I’m taking my ball and going home.” 

It’s Christian people who find themselves defeated because they knew the good way, but didn’t walk in it and instead of rest, they find turmoil in their souls. Don’t be that person.

You know the good way, walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.

Show Up

Woody Allen is credited with saying, “80% of success is showing up.” (some sites have him saying 90%). When it comes to Spiritual Renewal Week 2022 with Dr. Dan Boone, here is my quote (it won’t show up on famous quotes websites): “100% of full engaged people will benefit from Spiritual renewal week at Central Church.” Or flip this quote around and it’s equally true: “100% of those not showing up to Spiritual Renewal services will receive zero blessings from the week.”

Brené Brown said, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” Regarding Spiritual Renewal Week 2022, it could be said: “Real Heart transformation starts with showing up and letting the Lord be active in our heart and mind.” 

Singer James Taylor once told an audience, “I can’t thank you enough for showing up. It’s not the same without you.”He was right. He would have been singing to an empty auditorium. In some respects, the Holy Spirit could say the same about next week to us. 

All of this to say, Spiritual Renewal Week 2022, is about showing up. Being ready and open to God’s working in our life and in our church. 

If Moses chose to ignore the burning bush, he might have died as an Egyptian fugitive on the back side of the wilderness. Instead, he showed up and history was forever changed.

If David chose to not take his brothers their lunches and had not seen Goliath and heard his taunts, the mammoth Philistine might still be standing in the Valley of Elah (although he would be very old). Instead, David showed up and history was forever changed.

If Nehemiah chose to not worry about the broken walls around Jerusalem, he would have died a nameless official in Susa, Persia. Instead, he showed up… and you know, history was changed.

Showing up. Being full engaged. Listening and doing what the Lord asks of us is the recipe for a great Spiritual Renewal Week. I hope you have cleared your calendars and plan on being at all the services this week. 

Will attending Spiritual Renewal Week 2022 change the world?
It might change your world. 
It won’t change anything in your world if you don’t show up.

Will you look back on Spiritual Renewal Week 2022 as a pivotal moment in your family’s lives? 
It’s possible.
It’s impossible if you don’t show up.

Woody Allen, Brene Brown and James Taylor were mostly right, showing up is biggest hurdle toward a Spiritual Renewal deep within your heart and life. Jesus, most importantly, said it this way, “Seek and you find” (Matthew 7:7). In other words, “Show up!”

Post-Covid’s Big Question in Churches Across the Country: Wonder Where the People Are?

You remember the childhood rhyme and pantomime:  Here’s the church (Hands Clasped with fingers touching one’s palms). Here’s the steeple (index fingers pointed up and touching), Open the doors (thumbs are the doors) and see all the people (palms up and wiggling fingers which represent the church full of people). 

Post-Covid there is a slight variation. There is still a church (hands clasped but fingers are on top as the “the roof of the church”). There is still a steeple. You still open the doors, but there are no fingers (no people) inside. As a kid, we’d play the game that way and recited this rhyme (to the irritation of my mother): “Wonder where the people are? They’re across the street at the corner bar (Our hands once again clasped with fingers wiggling and wobbling). My mom was not amused.

No one is amused by the church attendance numbers, post-covid and are asking, “wonder where the people are?” Most churches have less in-person worshippers than before the pandemic. Pew Research found that only 2/3 pre-covid attenders have returned (see the research here). Of those 2/3 returning attenders, many are not returning to the same attendance pattern as before the pandemic. Where have all the people gone? 

There are probably several answers to the question: some people used the pandemic as an opportunity to shop for a new church; some are still cautious about covid; some regular attenders have died; on-line viewing is favorable to busy schedules or introverted ways; fewer people are visiting churches; and some, frankly, gave up on the church.

Most churches have examples of all of the above reasons. Anecdotally, it seems most folks missing-in-action are for a hybrid of reasons. Most non-returning attenders, would not say that they have given up on God (a few have). In fact, most non-returning attenders would not say that have given up on the church (a few have). Instead, they are just are not attending in person with the same consistency and regularity they once did. 

In the past, sickness didn’t keep worshippers from church. They still came unless they were running a high fever. Now, who wants to sit next to a person coughing and sniffling throughout the service? If they’re from a family, if one kiddo is sick the whole family stays home. In fact, if a person has been around someone sick (even if that person didn’t test positive for covid), they stay home. Just in case they may be contagious too. If on Sunday afternoon, they are to meet up with an immune-compromised or elderly relative, they stay home. They don’t want to catch something at church and bring it back to their loved one. Few thought in those terms, pre-Covid. People just went to church never worrying about the germs that might pick up and pass on. 

Pre-Covid the average “regular attender” worshipper attended church less than two times a month. Those numbers were trending south even before the pandemic. When I was a kid, our family attended church every Sunday unless on our death bed. Counting two weeks of vacation (see next paragraph) and maybe a sick day (maybe), we probably averaged 49 Sundays a year in our local church. Those days are over.

On vacation back in the day, we’d still attend church. Preferably, it was a Nazarene church (or closest thing to it). We’d take the bulletin home to prove our faithfulness to the pastor (under the guise of “Hey preacher, maybe you can get some new ideas from this church we visited on vacation.”). My wife’s family even attended Sunday School on vacation. That doesn’t happen anymore either. Folks on vacation might (emphasis on “might”) watch or listen to their home church service while driving, at their camp-sight, hotel room or relative’s house. Out-of-town visitors with no connection to the church are as rare as an attendance board in the foyer. 

If one was running late in the old days (by “old days,” I mean before March 2020), the parishioner drove fast. Pulled into the church parking lot barely missing a couple of teenagers who were sneaking out of the service. Rushed in. Took a back-row spot sometime between the third song and the passing of the offering plates (remember when we used to pass… offering plates, communion trays and “the peace”? No more.). Now if one is running late, the go-to response is, “I’ll catch this week on line.” No need to rush around like a maniac. 

Bad hair days; no clean clothes; early football games; late activities on Saturday night; busy week ahead; and a million other reasons are enough for folks to stay away from church on a Sunday morning with the understanding they can catch the service on-line. Such occurrences happen with far greater frequency than before Covid. 

Wonder where the people are? They are all over. Complaining about his reality doesn’t help. Brow beating current in-person worshippers will only lead to less worshippers. The answer to this dilemma is a simple one: Keep being faithful. Keep praying. Keep singing. Keep preaching the Word. Keep participating in the sacraments. Keep serving in the community. Keep loving your neighbors. Keep being the church of Jesus Christ, and the gates of hell shall not prevail. 

Lastly (most importantly), keep the welcome mat out for the not-as-frequent-as-they-once-were-attenders. When they walk through the doors, don’t say things like, “Where in the world have you been?” or “look what the cat drug in.” Instead say, “Glad to see you. Hello dear friend.” If you are a hugger, give them a hug. A fist bump will work too. Pray that while in the worship service, they will encounter God and recall all that they have missed since the last time they were in-person in church. Pray that God will strike a holy fire within them. Pray that the church will once again be filled with people, filled with the Holy Spirit, determined to reach our world with the love of Jesus.