About those small groups...
One of the great things about online church was that it afforded pastors like me the opportunity to pre-record sermons and assemble services weeks ahead of time so that when it came time to take a much-needed vacation, I didn’t need to stress.
One of the terrible things about online church was that it afforded pastors like me the opportunity to pre-record sermons and assemble services weeks ahead of time so that when circumstances changed, or the narrative deviated from the anticipated plot, our plans would be out of date, or moot.
We’re only a few weeks away from our fall launch and just ten days ago we hosted our first movie event of the at TBC to welcome you all back to the church, and to get you fired up about the fall. By all metrics it was a great evening and one which we will certainly do it again! But that Wednesday evening was supposed to be something more than just a good time. It was supposed to be the launch of our registration campaign for small groups this fall. And if you attended you would have probably noticed that there was nothing about small groups to be seen.
And if you watched the worship service today, and you heard me wax eloquently about our big plans for small groups this fall, you might be rightly confused as to why you can’t find any information about them on any of the church media channels or websites.
The long and the short of it comes down to this. The road back from pandemic life is going to be longer than many of us may have hoped for at the beginning of the summer when all our optimism about rising vaccination rates and loosening restrictions promised us the hope of a swift return to normalcy. Whether it is the habitual vigilance of the immunocompromised, the wary reticence of a population who have seen this movie before only to be snapped back into lockdown, or the pervasive spectre of the delta-fuelled 4th wave, much of the vigour and optimism that many of you were expressing about a return to normal in the fall has evaporated and the conversations I’m having these days are tinged with caution. If I could paraphrase the general timbre of what I’m hearing from the congregation it would be this: “I want to want to be excited about the fall, but I’m finding it hard to get myself to that place.”
And between that lack of zeal and a well-earned exhaustion that our 4,3,2, One Great Summer™ has not alleviated, as well as a new awareness of how exposed we will already be as the rest of the world ramps up—we have discovered that the appetite to be a part of the critical infrastructure of our small group ministry ambition is just not there anymore. Our plans for revitalizing homegroups are impossible to make happen when people are wary about having people in their homes; our plans to establish a community based around a shared table won’t work when people are still reticent to eat together; and our plans to encourage people to do life together more intimately can’t flourish when many of us are actively working to limit our social contacts to an ever-shrinking circle.
To be clear: I don’t say these things as a rebuke. I am not pastorally scolding you for your lack of faith, or a fearful disposition, I am just reading the room and coming to terms with the consequences of our context. Our plans were big, but our capacity to do these things together is much lower than the plans demanded.
And so instead we move forward more slowly. On September 12 we will launch our first full, in-person worship service since the beginning of the pandemic. And we will end that morning with a special celebration BBQ. We are going to make a go at returning to something resembling normal—but we aren’t going to be able to do it all at once. Small groups will lag, as will other ministries of the church that in the before times were such an important part of what we did.
Small groups will still happen this fall, but the context and circumstances of the impending fourth wave, and the caution that people are appropriately exercising in response to it will necessarily temper our strategy, and that responsive strategy will not be ready to start on week one of the fall as we had hoped. So I’m sorry for building up your hopes and expectations for something that will end up looking quite different than the reality of this fall, but if we’ve learned anything over the past 18 months—it’s that plans carved in stone are risky endeavours… and that sermons recorded more than a week ahead of time are even riskier.
I look forward to seeing you all on the 12th of September.