More long and messy days for churches?

For many years, our church hosted the Upward basketball and cheerleading program for young children. During the last two years, the pandemic prevented us from making this offering.

But, in January of 2023, Upward returned with two nights of practice and games on Saturdays.

Quite a bit of work goes on behind the scenes for the eight week season.That work is coordinated by congregational volunteers, church staff, and the league’s commissioner, Angela Verdery.

Angela and I always carve out time on our Friday schedules to make sure that Trinity Hall will be ready for the players, cheerleaders, coaches, referees, and the families and friends who come out on Saturdays for the games.

Saturday, February 11 was going to be a busy day for the church building.

After the basketball games, our church staff and volunteers would be doing their final preps for Parents Night Out. A program designed to give parents a couple of hours away from their children.

Our children’s director, Jenn Williams, invested many hours working with a team of volunteers to plan every minute of this event. Registering families, planning activities, ordering food, and supervision are a part of this evening.

Both the basketball games and the Parents Night Out were a success. For sure, it was a long day for all of the volunteers. Some started early that morning, and others finished their support when the last child was picked up in the Welcome Center.

When two large scale events are over, it is interesting to walk the building and grounds to see how they held up. Here are somethings I noticed.

Despite two parking spaces being clearly marked for the pastor and associate pastor, I’m always amazed that a guest will ignore the printed words on the curb, and park in these reserved spaces.

Some might argue that it is Saturday, and the pastors aren’t here. But, I can counter that point with a real possibility—the pastor meeting with a family who unexpectedly lost a loved one.

I guess at times pastors must feel like comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line: “I want to tell you, I get no respect.”

Then there is the youngster who every Saturday pops the hinged top off the heat register in the hallway entrance to Trinity Hall.

I can imagine a Saturday morning when the youngster pops the top lose, and instantly the long, rusted cast iron arms of a monster draped in spider webs lurches out from the dark of the register. The cast iron monster gently grabs the perpetrator, and politely asks— please don’t play with my hinged top.

And finally, I’m amazed at the inconsiderate nature of people who: can’t flush a toilet, put trash in a trash can, or drop an empty plastic bottle in a recycling bin.

Yes, I’m aware of the scripture from Matthew 7:3: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

No doubt, I’m guilty of whining about the shortcomings of others when my faults are countless.

Coming out of the pandemic, I sense churches are at a crossroads.

This surge of post pandemic energy doesn’t mean that churches have completely rebounded and found their old, reliable friend —normal.

Every week, I stare into our Sunday attendance numbers.

Of particular interest to me are the number of people watching a worship service on-line. In reviewing those totals, quite often we have more people watching on-line than we have attending in person.

I wonder what churches are doing to build a relationship with the people who tune in each week for a worship service? How does a church communicate with these viewers? How might a church follow-up with them, or invite them to other church events?

In the Winter 2023 edition of the College of William and Mary alumni magazine there is an excellent article by Noah Robertson titled Data Revolution. Among the points that caught my attention were data fluency and understanding the multiple variables available for using data.

William and Mary graduate, Nami Choe, Google’s director of marketing data science, notes how the advertising and marketing world are in constant change.

From that change, Choe has learned “that constant change demands more creativity, and you have to be more creative in how you use data to tell stories, because in her mind data’s always messy.”

Choe’s comment about data being “messy” should resonate with churches. Rightly or wrongly, churches in the past and present have been a bit “messy.” Their current messiness is related to a variety of challenges like human sexuality, political division, decline in attendance, shrinking budgets, aging congregations, and tired facilities.

I wonder if churches might benefit from having a director of marketing data science?

Could researchers who mine and analyze data be able to assist churches as they navigate their post-pandemic search for normal?

My hunch is that churches with deep endowments could hire someone to analyze their data.

Yet, it doesn’t take a keen data purveyor to recognize that churches pivot off people.

The success that our church experienced on February 11 was grounded in three essentials: people, time, and program offering.

As churches continue to figure out their post pandemic path, the pursuit of normal should not be a goal.

Churches will be better served if they can offer programming to all age demographics. It will be the creative uniqueness of those offerings that will nudge a person to commit a block of time to attend a noteworthy program.

Churches unwilling to change, adapt, and pursue new possibilities can expect long messy days in their futures.

Churches that continue to offer more of the same, who stubbornly remain grounded in the redundancy of past programming should go ahead and make plans to shutdown.

Saturday, February 11 was a long and at times messy day for our church.

And yet, there was some good news in that day—we had new people in our building, and we never know when the creative quality and uniqueness of a program might inspire a return visit.

Photo by Bill Pike

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