Meet your new-but-old-but-new church…

There are a lot of new people who don’t know what ‘normal’ looks like in your church. So what’s the plan?


One of the hazards of leading a church at the moment is to stop paying attention and to rely on habit. Muscle memory, if you will.

All through the pandemic and lockdown(s) we were hyper attentive, to trends, possibilities, news.  We listened to many people – the bold  and the cautious – and we leant on some of our more creative, innovative members.  We tried to find new solutions to new problems, and to old ones. Repeatedly

Now, as everything feels much more like it used to, we’re not behaving like that any more. We don’t need to.  Normal just became normal again.


One of the common features of churches that I’m hearing, is the appearance of a rapid turnover of members, as we become aware of how many moved on in lockdown season, and new faces who have come along.

Which means first, that a lot of people who you needed to run that ‘normal’ aren’t around any more.  And second, there are a lot of people who don’t know what ‘normal’ looks like in your church.

There are a lot of new people who don’t know what ‘normal’ looks like in your church.

So standing up and announcing that “Come As You Are is starting up again on Thursday” means not-a-lot to quite-a-lot.

Once again, we need to move forwards with care and attention.

We can’t treat church this coming Sunday as if it were the same church as three years ago.

Treat every re-start like a start-up

When something gets airtime on Sunday or in the weekly news, explain, explain, explain.  Interview, refresh, tell the story.

That’s especially true if something happens mid-week, because that means it’s invisible to a regular newbie. Let me say that again, because it’s so important.There are things going on right now in church which are precious and vital – but because it happens mid-week, it’s invisible.

If something happens mid-week, it’s invisible to a regular newbie.

Cast the vision

What’s this ministry for?  Who is it for?  What will happen if it God blesses it? Clarify, scrape off the barnacles, and cast the vision.

Spotlight the why

In particular, this is actually a tremendous opportunity to sit down with the folk who lead it, and ask “Why do we do this again?”  Find the core meaning of a ministry, and tie it into how and why you function as a church.  During lockdown, we had to pare back to the barest of bare essentials.  Now we are adding things back, we need to be deliberate.

Let’s make sure we’re adding muscle, not fat.

Now we are adding things back, let’s make sure we’re adding muscle, not fat.

Widen the circle

This is a biggie.  If you lost core members, you’ve lost some core volunteers.  Now, under normal circumstances, the gradual ebb and flow will have produced gentle replacements – but that probably hasn’t happened. Instead, you run the risk of trying to reboot everything, but with a smaller core team. By which I mean, a smaller, highly involved, highly knowledgeable team.  People with a great deal of knowledge about how things happen, where things are kept, who knows what.  

Which means we must deliberately either retrench for a season until we get a new equivalent core, or work really hard to engage those who are new, and turbo-charge their sense of belonging and ownership.

Either we retrench until we get a new core, or we work really hard to engage those who are new

Pastors have a unique opportunity here.  Let’s be honest, most church members know a reasonably fixed circle of people, mostly from a group that have been around a while. Now, if that circle has suddenly shrunk but they don’t know anyone who has replaced them, that core group is going to be working harder and harder, driving their small circle faster and faster, to keep the show on the road.

Pastors – we are the missing connection here, because we do know those new faces.  Or, even if we don’t know them, we can access them.  I suspect most churches these days will have some kind of database, rather than a mere membership list, which does mean we can interrogate it.  If it’s not obvious how, ask a techie member, but you should able to find out who has joined in the last three months, or six, or year. We use ChurchSuite, and targeting information to particular groups is really easy – for those of us who have the data permissions.

Oh – and don’t forget to say thank you, repeatedly, to that smaller, highly committed, core.

Tap on the shoulder

And here’s the dreaded secret about announcements in church – they are really ineffective. Even if you back the spoken words with visuals, video, QR codes, or different voices, they can simply be word salad.  Even you’ve been a pastor for even a short while, you’ll have had someone ask you why you didn’t announce X as you promised, when you did.  They’d slept through their own announcement.

So, we need active recruitment, of new members, for existing ministries as if they were new, with a clear vision.

And that needs the tap on the shoulder.

This week.

What else have you spotted?  Pile in!

2 comments on “Meet your new-but-old-but-new church…”

  1. How do you overcome the tap on the shoulder always having to come from the pastor? But at the same time no-one really listening to the pastors taps because “he always asks people”?

    1. As soon as you can, widen the group who can ‘tap on the shoulder.’ But remember that tendency only ask the people that we know, so that extended group must be pro-active in engagement of new faces.

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