In my previous post I described the current challenge faced by congregational leaders: How to hold our faith communities together when we can no longer get together?
The absence of Sunday gatherings has been difficult for leaders who have invested in developing their gifts of preaching and worship leadership.* These gifts are developed in the context of a gathered community, and that is their natural setting, the setting in which these gifts make the most sense.
Many leaders have bravely attempted to translate these in-person gifts to the setting of online worship and, on the whole, I think the results are better than might have been predicted. Online worship services in many settings continue to attract a large proportion of those who previously gathered in person.
But, as with many aspects of the Covid pandemic, a sense of fatigue is setting in. The novelty of online worship has worn off, as has the early pandemic sense of solidarity, the notion that we were all in this together and could manage for a season.
Now the season of Coronatide is set to outlast the longest season of the church year, the long stretch of ‘after Pentecost.’
As online viewing statistics plateau or move into a pattern of slow but steady decline, the time is ripe for rethinking our whole approach to church and especially the importance we assign to Sunday gatherings.
The big question
The proportion of congregational resources that go into Sunday worship gatherings is enormous. Perhaps forty to fifty percent of a pastor’s time, in addition to the time of other worship leaders, musicians, choirs, lay readers, altar guilds, technical support teams, ushers, office staff who prepare bulletins: Sunday worship is by far the single biggest item in a congregation’s budget.
But . . . should it be? Are we getting value for our huge investment of money and time?
This time without gatherings—or with very limited gatherings—forces us to reconsider what church is, what makes it vital, what keeps it alive.
Congregation members of every age, both long-tenured and recent arrivals, are discovering new ways of being church and new ways of being Christian, born of pandemic necessity. Church members are questioning the ‘old normal’ and imagining a radically different future.
In the next post, I’ll describe some of what I’ve been noticing.
*Note: the absence of Sunday gatherings has of course been very difficult for congregation members, too; the focus of this series on the choices faced by congregational leaders.
Rev. Dr. Jeff Seaton is an Anglican priest and former United Church of Canada minister, church leadership consultant, and author of Who’s Minding the Story? (Wipf & Stock, 2018).