COVID-19 caused churches to stop meeting. In many churches, creative ways to gather resulted. Many worshiped online for the first time in history. Some found new venues for online worship and for extending the invitation. Inviting new people to worship became easy: share the time and venue (cable, radio, Facebook, Youtube, etc.). Many churches chose to continue online worship even after returning to in-person worship.
On the other hand, Sunday School has had an uneven regathering. Some churches started Sunday School after a few weeks of adjusting to in-person worship. At first, some only regathered adults because of additional requirements for preschoolers and children. My church (Parkland Baptist, Louisville) gathered adults and students in August and is preparing for the return of preschoolers and children in September. Some churches, especially those with a high percentage of senior adults, have postponed regathering for Sunday School, awaiting availability of a vaccine.
In the process of regathering Sunday School, early numbers range from 25-65% of pre-COVID attendance. Some of that is understandable due to fear of the virus by senior adults and those with compromised immunity. Others simply want to protect their health and ability to work. Parents of younger children are often hesitant to risk exposing their children.
Inviting New People
At least five factors have combined to reduce or prevent inviting new people to in-person Sunday School. Let’s examine those factors:
- Habit: During this period, some developed the bad habit of not coming to church or Sunday School. Honestly, few invited new people to Sunday School before COVID. Developing new habits will require time, encouragement, and intentionality. Invite new people.
- Fear: Some members assume new people will say no due to fear of COVID. Other members will not invite because of fear that new people may bring the virus to Sunday School. Experience and example are two strong influences on fear. Help them understand they are safe and show them what happens when you invite.
- Uncertainty: Because members are themselves unsure about saftey, they cast that uncertainty on new people. They don’t invite believing that new people will say no. Take safety precautions, and avoid saying no for new people. Pray and invite.
- Delay: Many invitations have been delayed or missed because of COVID. And right now, many are thinking that they will invite someone later–when things are “back to normal.” The Spirit, however, is at work in our world and gives opportunities for invitations in our interactions. Be prayerfully ready to invite.
- Comfort: Some members grew comfortable watching church and class online. New people joined class online and got to know members. Now comfort is fighting against return to in-person Sunday School. Members liked not getting up so early or having to travel to go to church and class. And new people have never experienced the benefits of meeting in person–and initial experiences now may be more distant. My class, Circle of Friends, is doing both: in person and online. Keep inviting and sharing the benefits, but consider offering both options.
Pray and Invite
Fear and uncertainty may be the very reasons why people are more open to God right now. Invite them. People are more socially distant and may be more open to friendship. Invite them. People are not being invited to much of anything right now. Invite them.
People have experienced many emotions and losses during this pandemic. Invite them and share the hope of Christ. People need a group to care for them in this weird time of life. Invite them to your class. You will never know their response until you invite! Invite them. Make disciples. Be revolutionary!