I received a surprise phone call from my friend Rick Warren (yes, the Pastor Rick Warren) over the Thanksgiving holiday. Once I got over my shock that Pastor Rick would take time to speak to me, we got talking about declining and stagnating church attendance following the COVID season. He said to me, “Mike, (he’s the only person who calls me ‘Mike’) don’t feel bad that your attendance has never bounced back to pre-COVID levels, there are very few churches that haven’t taken a hit.”
The comment was unsolicited but deeply appreciated and comforting. It was profoundly reassuring to hear someone who has been such an inspiration to me say that I’m not alone.
I’ll admit – I do look at our attendance numbers every week. Pastors can’t help but monitor attendance – it’s a simple metric of success, or failure. But attendance is also a sign of life, of the opportunity to touch someone’s heart.
Since we began welcoming people back to church post-COVID, I’ve been watching and waiting, desperately, for our numbers to rebound to what they were. Each week passes and we are only slightly closer to our goal, so we keep waiting.
This Advent, live in hope. Live in the expectation that God is working at your church and that he wants to partner with you to see it succeed and grow.
In Advent, we wait for something or, better said, someone. It’s an exercise of patience, persistence, and prayerfulness. And, as Pastor Rick reminded me, an exercise of hope.
Hope is the expectation of obtaining something. It is called a theological virtue, meaning it is a gift from God himself.
This Advent, live in hope. Live in the expectation that God is working at your church and that he wants to partner with you to see it succeed and grow. Try something new this Advent, even if things you’ve tried in the past haven’t worked.
Here are 5 suggestions:
It’s not too late to pull together a dedicated series of messages/homilies for this season, taking the parish through the New Year and the Baptism of the Lord. There are lots of resources out there, but we have a special, ready-to-use Advent ‘kit’ that you can find at rebuiltparish.com/advent-package. A compelling series, over the course of multiple weeks, can build and maintain interest.
If you have a Children’s Liturgy of the Word and/or a nursery, dress them up for the season and give them some promotion from the altar and on our website. Parents are looking for more help this time of year for their younger children and your church could be the answer.
Take a look at your website and social media from the perspective of a newcomer. Does your digital communication make them feel welcome or does it speak to insiders? Are Mass times and children’s programs clear?
The number one reason anyone will ever come to your church (or come back), far and away, is the personal invitation, made friend to friend, family member to family member, neighbor to neighbor. What can you do to help make that happen? What tools can you give your parishioners? The most immediately useful is a good old fashion paper invitation, which we distribute after Mass. We also have an electronic version available on our website to make the ask even easier for our parishioners.
Does it feel like the holidays at your church? I know it is Advent and that has a distinct character from Christmas for Catholics, but the rest of the culture is already in full holiday mode. Can we reflect that in our greetings to visitors and newcomers at the front door, in fellowship after Mass, and in some wintery decorations on the exterior of the building to let the community know we know Christmas is coming?
Think about using the opportunity this season provide to not only reach the “lost” Jesus talked about but also to reach the “lost” we’ve lost in the last two years.
This blog was written by Father Michael White, the Pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland. Contact Fr. White at [email protected].