I look out over our church sanctuary as I prepare to speak on Sunday morning.
A twinge of disappointment hits me. The crowd is smaller than I anticipated.
It looks like our attendance may be down since Easter. What is happening?
Will everyone eventually come back? Did our church shrink?
I suspect I’m not the only one struggling with disappointment and fear as we await our society fully reopening.
There’s so much uncertainty.
In the midst of all this, my senior pastor recently shared some great advice.
It’s a focus he’s pursuing in this season, to keep his mind and heart in the right place.
Here’s his mantra for this season:
Focus on filling the people rather than the building.
Don’t focus on who isn’t there. Focus on who is there.
Don’t focus on who is missing. Focus on who you have.
This perspective is important right now because I think many of us are stuck on what we have lost.
“Our congregation was 500, and now it’s 200. How will we ever get back to 500?”
Could I challenge us? Let’s focus on filling the people we have.
God has entrusted those people to our care. Let’s pour into them. Care for them. Disciple them.
The Summer Slump
As we look ahead to summer, I anticipate a further drop in attendance, and I’m concerned about how it may impact us emotionally as church leaders.
People have been quarantined and contained, and they want to get out and have adventures.
If the number of people who traveled for Spring Break indicates how active people will be this summer, I think it’s safe to say our church attendance will be sparse.
It can be incredibly hard to pour your heart and soul into ministry week after week as you watch attendance slide downward.
This is why we need this mantra: Focus on filling the people rather than the building.
You and I can’t control who shows up.
We can’t control who leaves our church for the church across town because they disagree with your policy on masks.
But, we can control where we choose to focus and invest our energy.
This summer, I encourage you to focus on filling up your people.
How Do We Do This?
I think it involves personally investing in the people of your congregation.
Get personal. Make phone calls. Write more encouraging letters. Send more thoughtful texts. Make time for more visits, coffee meetings, and lunch appointments.
Fill your people with personal investment.
Secondly, focus on community.
Instead of big events or initiatives, this might be a season for cookouts, game nights, and small groups.
People are attracted to churches because of community.
We all want to be known and belong.
A marketing campaign probably won’t get you back to your pre-COVID attendance, but meaningful relationships and community can get your church moving in the right direction.
Lastly, focus on discipleship.
Fill your people by going deeper spiritually together.
I believe that deeper spiritual roots as a congregation always leads to numerical growth as members of your church live out their faith and share it with the people in their lives.
This summer will probably be an emotional rollercoaster for us as church leaders.
Who knows, the fall might be as well.
We need to put our focus in the right place so we can stay emotionally healthy and lead our churches in the right ways.
In this season, I encourage you to focus on filling your people instead of filling your building.