Garden Side Chat with Bill Evertsberg—July 15

Bill shares two disruptive church trends, and reveals what worship in the sanctuary may look like when it resumes on September 20.

Disruptive Church Trends

Hi friends, my name is Bill Evertsberg and I’m one of the ministers at Kenilworth Union Church, and this is Doogie, my assistant minister. Doogie went on a mini-vacay last week with his mom and his sister and his brother-in-law at White Lake in Michigan, and spent most of the week in Lake Michigan, so you can see he’s got these terrible hot spots under his ears. So if you have a minute this week, why don’t you lift up a prayer to the Almighty that Doogie’s wounds will get healed.

So on the Staff at Kenilworth Union, we’ve been reading this nice little paper by a church consultant named Carey Nieuwhof. It’s called “Disruptive Church Trends” and I thought I’d share two of those disruptive trends with you so that you can get a glimpse of what church life is going to be like going forward.

So the first of these disruptive church trends is Consolidation. Now, even before this pandemic, small- and medium-sized congregations across the country were closing at a furious pace, so this pandemic has merely accelerated an existing trend.

So, did you know that 48% of American Christians have not worshiped with their home congregation in the last 17 weeks? That’s about half of American Christians not worshiping with the congregations they belong to.

And get this: 23% of American Christians are worshiping with other churches than the one that they belong to, so what’s probably happening is that members in small- and medium-sized local congregations are checking out the virtual services of bigger churches with superstar preachers and extraordinary music programs and sophisticated technology.

And so what might happen as a result of this Consolidation after the pandemic is over is that American Christendom is going to have fewer, but larger congregations. So we want you to know that as a result of this disruptive trend of Consolidation, the staff at Kenilworth Union is working very hard to make sure that our church is one of those congregations people are fleeing to rather than fleeing from. So that’s the first disruptive trend, Consolidation.

The second is that the Reopening of Church Might Not Be the Rush Preachers Were Hoping for. So, we on the staff were very grateful for the 40 people who signed up for our first outdoor worship service here in the Memorial Garden on July 5, and for the 35 people who signed up again on July 12, but to be honest, we were underwhelmed by those numbers. We have room for 100 in here and we didn’t need it.

And we get that. Worship is different now, isn’t it? It’s not what it was before. You have to check in and get your temperature taken, you have to stay socially distant, you have to wear a mask, there’s no bulletin, there are no corporate prayers, there are no hymns, after the service is over you really can’t have a coffee hour, maybe you can greet your friends from a distance, but you go straight back to your cars.

So, that’s what the 8:30 outdoor service is like. Those of you who have been streaming with us at the 10 o’clock hour are getting a glimpse of what worship is going to look like when we can return to the sanctuary in person. So it’s going to look a lot like that outdoor worship service. We’re hoping to do this on September 20 at 10:30, by the way, physically here in the sanctuary, with a real worship service. But it’s going to look like that outdoor worship service in that you’re going to be wearing masks, there won’t be any bulletins, or corporate prayers, or hymns, or coffee hour. You might be able to greet your friends before and after the service, but those interactions should probably stay distant and brief. And by the way, church choirs are a long, long, long way off.

And you might have noticed that we have also installed Plexiglas barriers on the pulpit and on the lectern. There’s a third Plexiglas shield for the singers at the rear of the chancel, and to be honest, this is a little off-putting: a barrier between me and you, between the liturgist and you.

My best friend from Connecticut worships with us at Kenilworth Union most Sundays virtually, and the first time he saw me preaching from behind my Plexiglas shield, he said, “What’d they get you for?”

And I said, “what are you talking about?”

He said, “What did they whistle you for? Hooking? Tripping? High sticking? You look like you’re in the penalty box at a Blackhawks game.”

And I said, “Phil, that’s exactly what it feels like. I’ve been penalized, and the penalty’s not two minutes long, it’s been 17 weeks!”

So this is very different from what we used to do, and we understand that for that reason, many of you might continue to prefer worshiping virtually from home while many of the rest of us are here physically in the sanctuary. Because there’s a sense in which, virtual worshiping is just as intimate as worship on campus here with the rest of us.

We know it’s convenient, you don’t have to wrestle the kids into their Sunday best, you don’t have to drive to church, you don’t have to do it at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, you can do it when it’s convenient for you. If the sermon is boring, you can read The New York Times, which you probably have in your lap anyway, and you can fast-forward to the good parts.

So we understand that some of you might be wanting to continue to do that even when some of us are here in the sanctuary beginning September 20. Those under-attended outdoor worship services have alerted us to that possibility. And so church leadership is tempering its expectations.

All of this is telling us of the importance of an ongoing ministry. Carey Nieuwhof, that church consultant, said “You don’t want to be JC Penney’s. You want to be Amazon.”

JC Penney’s is a Physical Organization with a Digital Presence. Amazon is a Digital Organization with Physical Locations. Penney’s is almost extinct.

So, in those two important disruptive trends, Consolidation and A Slower, Smaller Return to Reopening in Church. And they are disruptive trends, but they’re also opportunities for congregations that can get it right. I want you to know that the church staff is trying hard not to be Penney’s.

The Lord bless you and keep you. Amen.

July 15, 2020

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