Louis Moncouyoux / Unsplash

Now that many congregations can celebrate an uptick in the numbers of people returning to in-person worship, it is tempting to rely on some of the same metrics that guided us before the COVID-19 pandemic — like the number of bodies in the pews — as a measure of church health. The return to in-person worship is truly a sign of hope, but even before the pandemic, the number of people in the building was not the church health bellwether we thought it was. How easily we forget.

The post-resurrection narratives in the gospels clearly point us to ministry beyond the sanctuary. Perhaps Eastertide is a good time to call the church to recommit itself to its mission in the world. A congregation that seeks to revitalize and reengage its members should not make the mistake of turning inward. If we want to compel people to reengage and get involved, we need to invite the church to respond innovatively and courageously to the community’s needs.

After the resurrection, Jesus commissions the disciples to go somewhere or do something. In Matthew, he tells the disciples to “go therefore and make disciples.” In the longer ending of Mark, he tells the disciples to “go into all the world.” In John, Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus had no plans for the disciples to hide from the world. He sent the disciples out into the cities.

What do you know about the needs of your city? Is there an affordable housing shortage? Do lower-income families have access to high-quality summer camps and childcare? Do senior adults have meaningful activities to occupy their time during the day? What issues pose the greatest challenges for immigrants in your area? When church leaders become experts on the issues in their local community, they can provide visionary leadership for how the church continues its mission beyond the sanctuary. We might be surprised who shows up.


Resources

Is the church here for the world or itself?

A retired white Methodist bishop from South Africa who worked with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu to end apartheid urges American Christian leaders to take Christian nationalism seriously.

Q&A with Peter Storey

WonderSpace gives families something to smile about

An indoor play experience expands options for a community with a high rate of childhood poverty.

By Shari Finnell

Rural churches are economic powerhouses for their communities

The outsize economic impact of rural churches on their communities calls for a renewed vision of their importance, according to a two-year study in North Carolina.

By Emilie Haertsch

When the pandemic closed schools, an existing network of congregations and others jumped in to offer meals — and more

Churches, government agencies and nonprofits that already served struggling families responded to the pandemic by ramping up their shared mission beyond providing children with summer meals.

By Dan Holly


Before you go…

Some congregations struggle to understand why they should be involved in doing more than charity work. “Charity” is a description of the kind of work that provides temporary relief. This kind of work is always going to be necessary because of the vicissitudes of life. Yet churches are called to do more than charity because Jesus did more. Jesus’ ministry fostered holistic healing and wholeness. He forgave sins, and he restored family relationships. Holistic ministry touches the body, mind, soul and every other dimension of our lives.

Jesus has risen! Let’s go share the good news. You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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