We have crossed the threshold into the long, green season after Pentecost. We have turned the corner into “Ordinary Time.” Program years are ending and many of us are already knee-deep in pilgrimage preparation, mission trip details, and Vacation Bible School. After more than two years of pandemic ministry (twenty-six months to be exact), this might be a good moment to pause and reflect on what we need in this season and what our people might be needing.
Sorting Through Conflicting Needs & Pressures
Every week during Lifelong Learning’s Open Office Hours, I have the privilege of engaging with church leaders as they seek resources, discern next steps, and wrestle with the challenges of their particular context. Here’s a bit of what I’ve heard lately:
- A sense of pressure to restart “normal” programming in the fall
- Longing for in-person connection and relationship building
- Pressure to “get families back in church”
- Anxiety about lack of volunteer leaders
- Stories of incredible creativity and resilience in the face of steep challenges
Whether you resonate with what I’ve been hearing or not, it may still be a good time for you to reflect on the season you are in and what you might need, I hope these resources will be helpful.
Naming The Season, Naming The Needs
You might begin by doing some reflection on the season you are in or are entering. You could go for a walk, journal, sit with a spiritual director, or if you’re a worksheet person, this two-pager is for you!
Below I’ve named some possible needs and listed a few ideas. We are each in unique contexts, so take what you need and leave the rest!
If you need energy to start planning a summer event or fall programing, consider what type of planning has worked well for you in the past. Do you need to set aside two hours? Get an 18-month calendar and a bunch of sticky notes? Or maybe you need a group of folks to brainstorm with. Here are some resources:
- Building Faith’s Curriculum Center with Top Picks for children, youth, and adult formation
- The 2022-2023 Faith Formation Lesson Planning Calendar from Christine Hides
- Planning Adult Christian Formation Programs from Sharon Ely Pearson
- The Design + Deliver: Intensive from Learning Forte (live sessions June 17-August 5, 2022, asynchronous option also available)
Ideas & Inspiration
If you need ideas and inspiration for ministry in your setting, check out these resources:
- The Small Church Ministry podcast with Laurie Acker – for example: 5 Fresh Ways to Structure Children’s Ministry If You’re Short Volunteers Or Just Need A Break
- Resources from Traci Smith – for example: Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred
- Scan and search Facebook groups such as Forma, Progressive Children’s and Youth Ministries, or Birthing Cross+Gen Community (Note: make sure to answer all questions and agree to group rules in order to be admitted to the group.)
Rest & Renewal
If you need rest and renewal this summer, you might start by considering what type of rest you need (The 7 Types of Rest That Every Person Needs). Here are some additional resources:
- For rest inspiration, check out Alex Elle on Self-Care as Generational Healing or Katherine May on How ‘Wintering’ Replenishes – both episodes of the On Being podcast with Krista Tippett
- For practical tips, check out The Lazy Genius Rests, How Too Make Time for Fun, or The Seven Kinds of Rest and How to Know Which One You Need from The Lazy Genius Podcast or Your “Life Kit” for Better Sleep podcasts from NPR’s Life Kit
- If you are concerned about ongoing stress and burnout, check out Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle (or listen to the authors being interviewed on Brené Brown’s podcast)
Connection & Relationship Building
If you and/or your people need connection, reconnection, and relationship building, consider some way of intentionally connecting folks. This does not need to be extravagant! Look for low hanging fruit:
- Pray for Families… via Text – Divide households in your ministry into four to six groups. Each week, pray for a set of families by name. Text the household adult(s) to ask for specific prayer requests. A quick testimonial: “I was skeptical when first presented with the idea of texting individual families to ask for prayer requests. After all, aren’t those things meant to be done face to face or over the phone? And yet, after making it my Lenten practice to pray for our families and to solicit their prayer requests by text, I’m a convert! As it turns out, texting is a wonderful way to engage with busy families. I’ve had a 100% rate of return, with all expressing gratitude for my outreach and many families choosing to follow up by text with additional concerns and thanksgivings.” ~The Rev. Crystal Hardin, Associate Rector at Saint George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, VA
- Ice Cream Social – Host an ice cream social after church. Could be once mid-summer or monthly. Recruit volunteers to bring ice cream, toppings, bowls, etc. Don’t forget to grab a dairy-free option.
- Game Night – Host a board game or bingo night. You might order pizza as well and/or play a movie for younger kids.
- Take A Hike – In many areas, summer is a great time to go for a group hike and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.
Space to Grieve
If you and/or your people need to grieve, consider ways to make space for this during worship (candle station, prayers of the people, etc.) and outside of worship:
- Write a lament – Sharon Ely Pearson provides a template in this article (scroll down to “Creating a Liturgy of Lament”)
- Reflect on or create art – for example, this Activity for Finding Hope in Art
A (Non-Reactive) Response To “We Must Get Families Back”
Many church leaders I know feel pressure to “get families back in church.” Sometimes this is communicated directly and sometimes it shows up in a church leader’s assertion that the parish picnic must have a bounce house. When you are working hard to minister in the most faithful way possible, the “we must get families back” pressure can be frustrating and deflating.
I cannot speak for all circumstances, but, in many cases, it seems like this pressure comes from an underlying fear, anxiety, and/or sense of grief. We are afraid that we have lost something and we can’t get it back. We feel a sense of loss that things are not the way they used to be. We are anxious about the uncertainty of what the future will look like. Getting more children in the pews or having a bounce house at a picnic feels like something we can do/control to lessen our anxiety. But what if frantic, exhausting attempts to control our ministry is not what we need? What if we cannot “fix” the fear and grief and anxiety by working harder and producing more? What if, as Laura Stephens-Reed writes, bringing in young families is not a magic bullet for your congregation?
The work of dealing with our individual and collective fear, grief, uncertainty, and anxiety is much harder than renting a bounce house or planning an ice cream social after church to encourage families to show up. I’m not knocking either of these ideas… I suggested an ice cream social above, but without attending to the underlying emotions, these ideas are small bandaids on gaping wounds. So what can one do?
- Start by tending to your own fear, grief, and anxiety: This might look like getting a therapist, spiritual director, clergy coach, colleague group, or starting a meditation practice. When you have strong feelings about the pressure to “get families back,” take them to these safe places.
- Look for and celebrate the Spirit’s movements: tune-in to what is going well, where there is energy, and where you feel God’s presence. Find ways to name and celebrate these places.
- Engage the pressure in one-on-one conversations: if there is a particular person (or people) laying on the pressure to “get families back,” ask them for a one-on-one conversation. Schedule the conversation at a time when you can feel calm and grounded. Focus on listening. Ask, “help me understand what ‘getting families back to church’ means to you and why this is important.”
Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash.
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This is a fabulous article! Thank you, Sarah!
Sarah Bentley Allred (she/her/hers)
Thanks, Susan! So nice to connect with you last week!