Pastors at two local churches, New Day Church in Oak Forest and Village Heights Church in the Heights, said their congregations saw a decline in participation after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an attempt to re-engage the community, both churches have a renewed focus and have come up with initiatives to draw people back in.
New Day Church, 3615 Mangum Rd., kicked off the first Sunday in August with a new series that intends to bring joy each Sunday of this month to its attendees, while encouraging those who got disconnected during the pandemic to reconnect.
“Awesome August at New Day Church is about helping people find true joy in disorienting times like these,” said John Wethington, a pastor at New Day. “I've noticed a lack of joy in our city from watching the news to just everyday interactions with people. We are hoping to communicate clearly that life is still good because God is always good. The world has changed, but God hasn't changed.”
Last Sunday, "Awesome August" launched with a new sermon series, an adult social hour before the service and activities for kids, including a kids' water Olympics alongside a 17-foot water slide and bounce house.
Wethington said church attendance has steadily increased but is not back to pre-pandemic numbers.
“We have noticed people have gotten out of the rhythm of going to church and so we are working hard to give them unique reasons to re-engage on any given Sunday and rediscover the wonder of a faith community,” Wethington said.
Upcoming events at New Day include a “Good Friday” type of communion service this Sunday as well as a backpack drive collecting supplies for local kids who are in need. On Aug. 15, the church is holding a “family reunion-style” community meal after service along with outside yard games. Aug. 22 will be “Kid Takeover Sunday,” where most of the main service will be led by the kids, and Aug. 29 will kick off the next sermon series called “Is God Real.”
“We will be exploring some of the best logical arguments for the existence of God,” Wethington said. “It will be a very compelling and unique sermon series that we think will help people see the strong logical arguments for God's existence.”
Wethington said doing creative and different things on a Sunday helps encourage people to attend, and that they’ve realized they can no longer rely on the cultural expectation that people will just show up on Sunday because that's what they are supposed to do.
“Those days are gone. But we actually see that as a positive thing for the church and for our team because that challenges us to really think about the purpose and meaning behind what we do,” Wethington said.
Hannah White, pastor at Village Heights Church, 311 W. 18th St., said the church has also seen a decline in attendance at the in-person gatherings, but said the church is more focused on being a support system than regaining numbers.
“Over the last year-and-a-half, we have experienced the incredible need for and value of community,” White said. “As faith leaders in our neighborhood, one of the greatest things we can do is create opportunities to strengthen that sense of community once again. For Village Heights, that means remaining ‘others’ focused. While we would love for every single person in our area to attend a Sunday gathering, to us it feels just as important for our neighbors to know that we are here to support.”
Ways the church still engages and encourages attendance is to do relevant sermon series, or as White puts it, speaking life into the times we are experiencing and address the struggles we all face.
It’s also important to Village Heights to stay connected outside of Sunday gatherings through service projects and hosting events, White said.
Now, the church is launching a new campaign that will intentionally reach out to neighbors. It’s called, “What do you need?” White said soon the community will see posters around town, ads on social media, and postcards in their mailbox that invite them to share their needs with Village Heights, and they’ll be able to go to VillageHeights.church/myneed to share their need.
“The last 18 months have taught us that we can survive in isolation, but none of us can truly thrive,” White said. “Yes, we can absolutely continue to develop our faith by watching messages or listening to podcasts online. But there is something so beautiful about having a family of believers who know you, support you and continually cheer you on. Remaining focused on other people ensures that we each feel seen, find our tribe and can accomplish incredible things together.”