Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

Listening for God’s Gameplan

By Ryan Lindsay Arrendell

It’s a Thursday night and there are things happening at Bethel AME Church. In the basement, women and a few men gather at tables set with mini easels, paintbrushes and pots of paint. Upstairs, a group of men are gathered around the piano, singing, then chatting, then rehearsing. And in a small room tucked away in the sanctuary, four women gather for a Reimagining Church meeting. 

I am one of the four women but my responsibility is to facilitate, to think aloud with them, to journey alongside them. I must remind myself—my duty is not to fix or solve or even do the work for them. There is no cape I must put on. I am nobody’s savior. And so I listen.

Present on the women’s minds is this—why exactly do we need to reimagine church? Ms. Annie firmly believes that reimagining has already happened. “When COVID hit, that’s when we reimagined,” she says. “Now that things are opening up, it’s not about reimagining. How do we go beyond the reimagining? How do we get the people back? What do we do next?”

“We have to present something new,” Ms. Val says.

“New ministries—something that they can get involved in. We grew, we didn’t just stay stagnant.” Ms. Elaine chimes in. “It’s going to be hard work.”

Something is missing—something is missing. The women wonder—why is it that folks will go to the grocery store, the movies, the mall but won’t show up for service on Sunday? Perhaps they’ve grown too comfortable with Bedside Baptist, Pillow Presbyterian, Mattress Methodist, Couch Catholic…

The pandemic showed churches things they could do that they hadn’t aspired or tried to do before like stream services, post sermons online regularly and come together for small groups or digital fellowships. Yet now, stagnancy looms.

Right now, it feels like we have more questions than answers, which is why, as Rev. Joanne Jennings has impressed upon us, we must learn how to listen for God and once we can hear God, we must listen to God for instructions. God has the answers, the solutions, the game plan. We must listen.

Image | Kvalifik on Unsplash