Apr 18, 2024

When our churches shut down in-person during the pandemic, we learned what we missed and what we did not miss. Speaking personally, I missed visiting the sick, comforting the grieving, praying in unison and singing. I missed eating food together and I even missed washing dishes. I missed funerals more than I missed committee meetings. It was clarifying. Today when I think of what the church should be about when we gather in person, I think of the things I missed the most when we couldn’t.

Another clarifying question from that time was who, in our surrounding communities, missed our churches when we shut down in person. This question is not for the pastor or the church member, but for the outsider who walks by the building. What loss did the community suffer in our absence?

If your church served a free meal once a week, that would be missed by people outside your church if it had to stop. If you host twelve step meetings, if you offer meeting space to teenagers, if you provide coats in the winter and fresh vegetables in the summer, all that would be missed by people outside church. But if community members missed nothing when your church closed down, that is also clarifying.

As I visit our Michigan churches, a different one most weekends, I look for commonalities among the congregations that feel vital to me. What is a vital church? It’s one where I feel the Spirit moving in the worship, where there is a sense of hope and hospitality, and a serious sense of service. A vital church is one you want to come back to. And when it comes to vitality, I am always reminded that size isn’t everything.

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