Bobservations: Nursery Rhymes and Post-Pandemic Church Attendance
Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door see all the people. Do you remember showing children this fun rhyme with your hands? Do you remember interlocking your fingers on the outside and saying, Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and it looks like a post-pandemic church? It may not rhyme as well, but it’s pretty accurate. According to a May article in Christianity Today, in-person church attendance was only 40 percent of the preceding year. By March, the number had risen to 57 percent of the pre-pandemic crowd. I recently met with an Executive Pastor at another church in the area, and we confirmed that is the attendance trend we’ve seen at our churches. But that does not mean we are not still pursuing our mission.
Every quarter Pastor Britt sends an email letter to those who financially support Sunridge. If you did not receive this email, I wanted to share some of it with you. In the letter, Britt covers the current attendance and giving trend and what God is doing in and through Sunridge.
A Letter From Pastor Britt
I believe it’s important that you hear from me a few times a year about what’s going on at Sunridge, where we’re headed, and how your faithful financial support is affecting our capacity to accomplish our mission of helping people find and follow Jesus. This communication is only sent to those who give because I want you to be well-informed, I want you to know how grateful I am for your support, and I know I can “talk straight” with you because you love Sunridge and our mission.
In the last quarterly, I announced that we would soon begin cautiously meeting indoors. My, how much has changed since that announcement! To say it’s been a whirlwind for staff would be an understatement. The ministry of Sunridge accelerated in ways that surprised even me. Our staff has truly been remarkable in identifying post-COVID issues, coming up with creative solutions, and working tirelessly in creating opportunities for Sunridge to thrive.
Here are a few highlights from the last quarter:
We’re now meeting indoors without limitations. As I mentioned above, in the last quarterly I was merely announcing that we “would be” moving our services inside – and now it’s a reality! Herd immunity and an ever-increasing number of us getting vaccinated have allowed us to begin meeting safely indoors (I really loved our outdoor services though!). The re-occupation of the building required lots of volunteers and so many of you raised your hands to say “I’ll help!” Right now, if you compare our average adult attendance to the number of adults volunteering at least once a month, about 50% of people attending are also serving. Pray with me about increasing that to 75%! There’s a perfect spot waiting for you to serve if you haven’t volunteered yet. We can’t do it without you!
Did you see our baptisms on June 13th? The two women baptized that morning have remarkable stories and exemplify our vision at Sunridge:
- One dropped by our office a month ago to talk about how loved she felt by Sunridge when we held a memorial service for her mom (Their family had no church affiliation and other churches declined to help). Kudos to our Memorial Team! Pam led her to Christ right in her office.
- Another was working as a checker in a local store just a week before our baptism service when two “Sunridgers” struck up a conversation with her about God. She requested to meet with a pastor and along with one of our members I was privileged to lead her to Christ in my office. After praying she asked, “How do I get baptized?” You gotta love that!
Oh, and one more bell-ringer! There are several Sunridge ladies who have had their nails done by the same person for over five years. Over that time period they have each loved, listened to, and shared Christ with her, each in their own way. This former Buddhist gave her heart to Jesus a few months ago and was baptized (at another church) and is now attending Sunridge – because she “feels so loved here.”I don’t know about you, but I just love being part of a church that is helping people find and follow Jesus!
The Pre-Summer Retreat: Over 130 of you attended the on-campus retreat that included games, activities, competitions, worship, interactive groups and team-teaching sessions. The retreat weekend was designed to re-connect Sunridge after being so isolated from the pandemic, and to launch our summer series on spiritual formation. You may not be aware but during the last year we’ve been strategizing with our staff, elder board and selected voices from Sunridge about our next steps of spiritual growth. The retreat, “Formed,” and the interactive service format we implemented for the summer came out of those discussions. It was a team effort. We couldn’t have done it without so many who contributed your prayerful ideas and experiences.
Children’s and Student Ministries: Students and kids ministries have been meeting in limited outside venues for quite some time but have quickly transitioned to a full ministry model. Epic and Quest are back to holding summer camps, pool parties and sleep overs. Sunridge Kids is meeting on Sunday’s now. And, they just held a fantastic series of mid-week meetings for our kids called “Kids’ Night Out” (I noticed it was kind of a “parents night out” for some of you as well as you were taking the time for a mini-date after dropping off the kiddos!). The kids followed our theme of reflecting on Romans 12:1-2 and had a great time with fun activities as well. One of my grandkids was so happy his family vacation was cancelled so he could attend Kids Night Out! 😊 Kudos to all our staff and volunteers who made this happen on such short notice.
Did you notice the cross in the worship center? For the last few years people have mentioned they thought we needed a cross in the worship center, some even stating they would “pay to have it built.” (We were waiting to complete the downstairs renovations so the design of a cross would fit). During the COVID shut down we assembled a design team and had it built and installed. It was one of the facility projects we completed while the building wasn’t in full use. By the way, I offer to anyone who mentioned to pay for a cross to designate a special offering for it by making a special designation to the CIF (Capital Improvement Fund) by clicking here to give electronically or by adding the word “CROSS” on the memo line of your check. 😊
The post-COVID reality. The pandemic hit churches hard. It took a while, but there was a slow erosion for churches in America. On average, churches are down 50% in attendance from pre-COVID. During COVID, one of my “mentor” pastors predicted that like-minded churches would return at 50%. He was right. Nationally, about 1/3 of church attenders have stopped attending altogether and about 1/3 have continued to choose to watch from home. (They are slowly returning, but the online option is here to stay). Sunridge is “average” in this way. Our average weekly in-person attendance is about half, although we are seeing slow growth and new faces. The good news is that in spite of only half returning to attend in-person, our offerings have only dropped by 14%. The bad news is that everything is more expensive. All this comes at a time when some of our younger staff are being priced out of the housing market. We are in the budget forming process right now and it looks like cuts are coming in staff compensation and very likely in staffing, period. I tell you this not to guilt you or twist your “financial arm” so to speak. But, as one of our financial partners, I feel it’s my duty to be frank with you. Sunridge’s future is very bright, but we are also experiencing real life as it is. We are committed to facing the reality so many are facing and will continue to make wise, visionary, and compassionate financial decisions. Please pray with us as we put together a visionary and reality-based budget for 2021-22. And please remain faithful in your giving this summer. Even though many of you are gone on vacation our costs actually go up due to increased utilities etc.
A year ago, we were just realizing how long the pandemic was going to affect us. We were teaching about wandering in the wilderness, and the new normal. Now, we are back in the building and employing all of our God-given creativity and effort in being a church that is helping people find and follow Jesus. I am so grateful for your faithfulness this year. For many, it’s been hard for you. Thank you for sticking with us, and for supporting the mission God has given this church. We couldn’t have done it without you. We wouldn’t have wanted to do it without you. And, God has called us to this mission together.
I wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Britt. We couldn’t have done this without you, nor would we have wanted to. We are the body of Christ, and each one of us is a part of it. Together, let’s continue to help people find and follow Jesus!