Moral: the right thing to do, although it doesn’t feel right.
Courage: doing the right thing anyway.
This week, especially this week, there are people of faith in your community who are trying to work up the courage to reconnect with their churches. During the pandemic, they fell away for a myriad of reasons and with varied motivations.
Now, Holy Week, many are considering returning. Considering, mind you — still undecided.
It turns out that returning to church, reconnecting with one’s faith community after an extended absence, is harder than you might think. Although we may imagine returnees rushing into the fellowship with jubilation and joy, many are right now visualizing the opposite. They see themselves slinking in the back after the prelude has begun, hesitant to make eye contact, fearing imagined judgment.
Those of us who are insiders struggle to understand this, knowing we are delighted to welcome them back. Never would we intentionally communicate criticism, rather rejoicing when lost sheep return to the fold. We would be mortified knowing our clumsy attempts at humor, intended to lighten the moment, are interpreted as shaming. Like the father welcoming the prodigal son home, we hope our enthusiastic welcome is understood as genuine joy at seeing their faces.
Yet, based on recent conversations, I can tell you it’s hard to return after going AWOL.
“I can tell you it’s hard to return after going AWOL.”
A pastor shared with us in a group recently that several people have contacted him privately, confessing their hesitation about returning to church. One slipped into using alcohol as a coping mechanism during pandemic isolation, perceiving this as a moral failure, fueling reluctance for coming back. Others, this pastor said, simply fell out of the habit of attending worship and participating in small groups. They are embarrassed they didn’t remain faithful while believing everyone else did.
So clearly, that first time reconnecting with church post-pandemic after a long absence can be tough. There’s a certain moral courage needed. Walking through the doors, literally or online, fearing the humor-laced snarky comments or sideways glances, takes fortitude. Most of these people don’t believe they have the moral courage required, while they also want to address that longing in their hearts for their church families.
That’s where we come in. This week, Holy Week, let’s give every opportunity we possibly can to others. Let’s throw the metaphorical and literal doors open wide. Let’s make it exceptionally easy for those carrying the weight of distance and time to lay their baggage down. Let’s be new-start gospel kinds of people.
Even more, beyond Holy Week, consider your church’s events calendar for the coming months. How many “restarting” opportunities are there? Whatever number are there, add more. People are ready to reconnect, generating the moral courage required, at different times. The more entry points we can provide, the more returnees will walk through those doors.
Moral courage. May God gift the scattered in your community with big doses, empowering them to reconnect with your church. May God bless you with exceptional hospitality, welcoming others as you would want to be welcomed.
Mark Tidsworth is founder and team leader for Pinnacle Leadership Associates. He has served as a pastor, new church developer, interim pastor, renewal pastor, therapist, nonprofit director, business owner, leadership coach, congregational consultant, leadership trainer and author. Ordained in the Baptist tradition, Mark is an ecumenical Christian minister based in Chapin, S.C.