What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? – James 4:1 (NIV)
Is your church experiencing some conflict? If so, you are not alone. As I visit churches across Michigan and talk to other denominational leaders across the country, I hear it. Churches with long, steady past pastorates are now at odds with a pastor, who suddenly can do nothing right. Churches who already have histories of struggle have seen their normal level of tension increase exponentially. Why?
I don’t think there is anything weird or wrong with our churches. In fact, I am inspired by the creativity and courage I see in congregations. But the Church, like the rest of society, is still processing the trauma of the last two-plus years of Covid and the growing realization that we cannot go back in time institutionally. When we come back to worship in person and see some empty seats, it’s only natural that we miss the people who have not returned. Even happy churches can get grumpy about “Why isn’t everyone back yet?” and start to ask, “Who is to blame?”
But if you wonder whether some mythical church down the road is packed, let me tell you: the return is slow across denominations and across the nation. Families with children, stressed to the max during Covid, are the slowest to return to church, and both the mega church and the tiny church are feeling it. If you are getting 30% of your previous in person attendance, that is normal. If you are getting 50%, I’d call that a victory.
And if your church is a little cranky, give yourself and each other some extra Christian kindness.
Thank you God for every person I worship with – in person, in spirit or in the mighty cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. We are not alone and we never have been. Amen.