How to return to church.

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Rediscovering the heart of church: How do you return to church?

When I was a kid, I was not a believer in Jesus. So we watched whatever we wanted on T.V.  There was no sense of morality attached to T.V. Except that when the movie Jaws came on, I was not allowed to watch it. My dad said it would scare me. But most nights, being a Gen X… Latchkey kid, my parents often plopped me in front of the TV, and we watched whatever was on. After growing up, I realized I misunderstood much of the sexual innuendo or the subplots of most of the sitcoms. Went right over my little blonde head. One such sitcom was Cheers. It is the story of an ex-baseball player named Sam Malone with a drinking problem who ended up owning a bar in Boston. The cast was made up of an intellectually diverse group of people, from blue-collar workers to random guest star vagrants to neurotic psychiatrists. They made a family of sorts. I tuned in every week.

I remember the theme song.

“Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?…
Sometimes you wanna go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name”
Now I know what the show was missing. There was no sense of spirituality or belief in God. What an awful place to connect. The show suspended the reality of many people’s struggles with alcoholism even as it’s main character had that exact same problem. It also left out the reality of the condition of most of the folks leaving the bar at the end of the night. But as I think back about a world outside of church. For the unsaved, it might just be the closest thing to a church…Yet without the presence of hope or life in Christ.

In recent years, many individuals who identify as church attendees have found themselves questioning their place within a church or have found themselves unsure of how to come back. They still long for that third place in society. Home, work….For some the coffee shop bar, or even an illicit exciting extramarital relationship have become that third place since the pandemic. Many would like to go back to church… But they aren’t talking about it to anyone, really.  Whether due to shifting cultural landscapes, theological disagreements, personal failing and fear of judgement, guilt for not returning sooner or personal other experiences, some have drifted away. However, the path back to the church is not only possible but plausible. In this blog post, we’ll explore key steps for you or your friends seeking to reconnect with the core values of a church and why it’s important for them to look at whether or not they still fit in their former church now. Many folks coming out of the pandemic find their values no longer align with their church’s values. Things shifted. Sometimes for the worse. Sometimes on the personal side. Sometimes from the church polity or doctrine side. They have found that their beliefs may have changed. Or they have witnessed their church’s denomination shift in their beliefs and are unsure if they still fit. Where do you start? How do you help your friends who want to come back but don’t seem to know how. Or how do you come back?

  1. Reassessing Beliefs & Listening: Start by revisiting your church’s core beliefs. Bible-believing churches are characterized by a commitment to the authority of the Bible, the centrality of Christ, the necessity of personal conversion, and an emphasis on evangelism and mission, and a modern use of spiritual gifts. Reflect on how these foundational tenets align with your current understanding of faith and life. Engage in open conversations with trusted friends  who will challenge you to gain someone else’s perspective. This person should be a person firm in their faith and Biblical beliefs. The style with which they “deliver the news” need not be an impediment to your journey. Meaning, they may be from a different generation and have different viewpoints or communicate in a style you would not.  But don’t shut them out. Look for the meat of the conversation around beliefs. Ask them why coming back to church and staying plugged into church has been so important to them. Then…listen. Really listen to them without coming up with answers, responses, excuses or rebuttals.
  2. Cultivating Community: To be in church should be to be in community. The church is meant to be a place of fellowship, support, and accountability. Attend local Bible believing gatherings, small groups, or church services, even potlucks or ministry interest meetings to reconnect with like-minded individuals. (Remember you are trying to come back so it’s not easy or automatic). Rebuilding  or building relationships is integral to church. Watching church online is like watching a fireplace online. You get the image but not the warmth. Attending events will give you the opportunity for people to know your name, your smile, and your warmth again.
  3. Embracing Diverse People: Church is not a monolithic entity. There is a rich tapestry of theological perspectives within people’s backgrounds. There will be new people. They will be in your old seat. They will not look, act or talk just like you. Get over it. Embrace the diversity that exists within church, recognizing that unity does not require uniformity of skin color, voting beliefs, or how you chose to raise your kids or how you chose to respond to the socio economic issues.  Engage in conversations with fellow believers who may hold different views, fostering an environment where mutual respect and understanding can flourish. Don’t feel it’s your job to change them if they disagree with you. Simply smile, nod, and pray through if you disagree. But don’t dismiss or demean a church experience because you did not click right away with everyone or you met someone who you do not agree with on every level. In fact when you come back or go to a new church, give it 90 days. Don’t just go once and give up on it. It’s not fair to them or you to be that way.
  4. Active Participation: Returning to church involves more than just attending services. Get involved in the life of the community by volunteering, joining ministry teams, or participating in outreaches, giving through your time, talent, and finances to causes and objectives the church supports. Engagement allows you to contribute to the positive growth of the community and deepening your connection with the church.  Sign up for text messaging, online giving, or “alerts.” If your church has an app or a text group or an online prayer group, join it!  And when church is out. Stay longer. Grab another cup of coffee, have 3 intentional conversations in the lobby, narthex or foyer of the church per week. Even if they are simple greetings and “How do you do’s.” After church eat the doughnut holes, greet that young family’s  loud children, and compliment the old couple with their matching sweaters.
  5. Prayer and Spiritual Disciplines: Rediscover the power of prayer and spiritual disciplines as foundational  parts of Christianity WITH others. Set aside time for personal AND communal prayer, Bible study, and meditation. Physically go to a Bible study. Cultivating a spiritual life will strengthen your Christian faith and contribute to relationships in the community. You get to know a situation when you pray for someone. But you get to know a person when you hear with your own ears how they speak to their Creator in a time of prayer. You experience their faith, worries, fears, respect, boldness, and love simply by being in their presence as they pray with you. And you give that same experience when you pray with them.

Returning to church is a journey of rediscovery and renewal. By reassessing beliefs, cultivating community, embracing diversity, actively participating, and prioritizing prayer and spiritual disciplines, Christians and people seeking Christ can reconnect with the heart of their church. Or they may find it’s time for them to discover a new community if their values no longer align with those at their former church. Things have radically changed for some churches since 2019. And that needs to be acknowledged. But you will never know till you go back and try.  In doing so, you may find a renewed sense of purpose, a deeper connection with God, and a community that supports you. A place where you can do more than just take a break from your worries and get away, but instead find yourselves again on the path with others towards grace and truth in a community  on a similar spiritual journey towards the love of Christ as you take your next steps with God.