Another month of the Covid-19 pandemic! Another month of trying to decide what we can do or not do at the church. Another month of second guessing decisions, wondering about the outcomes of those decisions, and trying to navigate an unknown future. Another month of trying to hit a moving target. Ugh! As I try and lead my church into another month, there are a lot of things that I do not know. However, there are several things that a Pastor like me has learned during the pandemic of 2020. 

As I am rambling out loud about these things, let me mention a sampling of things that pastors and church leaders have learned:

1. We have learned who our real leaders are in the church! 

 I have always known that there was a MAJOR difference between a real leader and someone who holds a position of leadership. Often times, we get these confused in a church. There are always those who hold positions of leadership and who are recognized by others as "a leader", but in reality, they are not leaders. To lead others, you must have a direction you are trying to take followers. In my church, for example, we have a very clear mission strategy and a very clear, concise, and simple process of movement. Real leaders in a church help move people forward in fulfilling this mission strategy. During the pandemic, everything has been evaluated from staff, to ministries, to budgeting, and even how we lead. What is true at my church has been true at a majority of churches. 

What we pastors have learned is that some of the people before the pandemic who were thought to be leaders are not leaders. The pandemic has exposed them to be position holders only. When the time for real leaders to rise up and lead during this difficult time, many of these people could not be found. On the other hand, there have been people who held a position and others who have held no position in the church who have been exposed as true leaders. They have continued to move the church membership forward in fulfilling the mission strategy and continuing the ministry of the church to others. They have proven to be people of prayer. They have proven to be faithful and fruitful in ministry. They have proven to be leaders who believe in what God is doing in their own lives, as well as in the life of their church! 

2. We have learned who our real givers are in the church!  

I am blessed to be in a church that has not been negatively affected financially by the pandemic. While we could be stronger, especially in the Summer months, overall we are right at our 2020 budget. Other churches in our region have not fared as well. When their attendance dropped, so did their giving. What they learned is that there were many people in the church who would have considered themselves "faithful givers" or even "faithful tithers", but when the doors of the church were closed, was forced to go online, or had to create additional services to socially distance the congregation in the sanctuary, those who did not return to the church also chose to keep God's money at home with them. At my church we saw people who said before the pandemic, "I'll never given online", start giving consistently online, even during the weeks when we were shut down. What they did was prove themselves to be genuinely faithful as stewards of God's resources. The circumstances of life did not affect their giving, even when the circumstances of life changed all around them. Praise the Lord for these people!

3. We have learned that for many people, church attendance was never really a priority!   

Studies that are trying to forecast the effect of this pandemic on churches going forward are suggesting that church attendance patterns are changing across America, even in the Bible Belt states. Thom Rainer suggests that as much as 1/4 of pre-Covid attendees will not return to church. He gives a variety of reasons. I am one of the many pastors across my state who thought to himself, "When we are able to open back up for worship, we will have to socially distance people into many services. I am not sure we have enough space to hold all the people." I know what you are thinking...this guy is an optimist! It is true! I am an extreme optimist when it comes to the church that I pastor. However, what I found out is that only about 30% of our pre-Covid attendees showed back up. To date, we are averaging about 38% of our attendance from February 2020. 

One of the things that has been most baffling to me as a pastor is "WHO" did not return. While I was never expecting a quick return for many of my Senior adults who have pre-existing conditions, I was shocked to see so many 30-50 year olds with kids and students who have barely walked through the doors or have not returned at all. I have had them walk up to me in crowded local restaurants with their kids to tell me, "Pastor, you won't see us in church on Sundays right now. We just aren't getting out in public." What? Now that is hard to process. What has been true at my church has been true at churches of many different denominations all around me. One pastor friend told me that he's never been so frustrated in all these many years of ministry. He talked about how there were families who didn't miss a single Little League baseball game or practice with kids running around the ballpark every where, but these same kids are not in church. Even with school starting back in our region of the state several weeks ago, we still have kids and students who have still not been back to church, nor have their parents attended. Many of them are at the local Middle School and High School football games, but not in church.

To be fair, I think there are a lot of reasons why attendance has not climbed back up in that age group, but across the board it just seems that for many of these people in this age range and even other age rangers that church was never really a priority to begin with. The pandemic has apparently given them the excuse they were secretly looking for to stay away and feel justified. I think this statement is true because they have gone back to almost all other pre-Covid activities except for one...worship in their church! Again, I am hearing this from pastors all across my region of the state. I recently read an online quote that said this: Church should be your excuse for missing EVERYTHING ELSE. This is a factual statement! 

So, as I am rambling all of these thoughts out on paper today, let me just encourage all of you who may be reading this to do one thing: Go back to church this Sunday! Get up and get dressed. Wake up and wake up the kids. Find your Bible, dust it off, and get to a church near you to worship the one true living God of the universe! Reconnect with the Lord! Reconnect with your church family! Practice social distancing and use common sense, but let's get back to church this Sunday! If you living in or around Henderson County, Tennessee, I would love to see you at either 8:15 A.M. or 10:15 A.M. this week!    

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