As we enter the summer of 2021, I would venture to guess many of us have shared an unpleasant experience. I put on a shirt that I haven’t worn in quite a while. It seemed a little snug well, maybe a lot snug.

“This shirt must have shrunk in the wash,” I thought. (I know, I know, ‘denial’ isn’t the name of a river in Egypt.) Later in the day, I noticed a cool breeze. I looked down to discover a button was now missing from the front of my shirt. I was forced to admit to myself, “I have gained the pandemic 19 and increased my girth.” In addition to making resolutions to watch my diet and increase my exercise, I began looking for a way to put a positive on the situation.

It seems I am not alone in this realization. Another church leader who had a similar experience pointed out that there are reports that only 75% of church members will return to in-person worship.

He continued, “Maybe we are looking at the wrong metric. Instead of counting attendees, we can count the total weight of those who come to worship and we won't feel so bad. Our church grew by 8,000 pounds. At this rate, we’ll be the largest church in town.”

OK, maybe that isn’t such a good idea. However, it does touch on an issue that is affecting not only churches, but many organizations in our community. What does it mean for someone to be a member of a church, social club or other organization? Is it enough to send in your dues once a year? What about attending meetings? Can you be an active member without participating in any of the activities or events your organization sponsors? How long do you think you would continue to be a part of a sports team if you only came to some of the games and none of the practices?

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Churches are like any other organization and depend on the participation of its members. Members may serve and clean up meals, teach, hand out bulletins or change the paraments. They may mow lawns, shovel snow, change light bulbs or serve on committees and church boards.

All these roles are necessary in the life of the church, but don’t make a church the church. We are a people of faith. We believe we are saved by grace, not by our actions. Our actions do matter as a reflection of what we believe and who we serve. It is participation in the study, prayer, service and worship life of the church which gives us life.

In a recent funeral message, I shared some thoughts on Micah 6:6–8. God does not seek the exorbitant gifts — in this case thousands of rams or 10,000 rivers of oil. In more contemporary terms, we might say God does not keep count of our reading the Bible every day or of saying 10,000 prayers. Rather God seeks acts of justice, loving kindness and humble service.

In Acts 2:42 we find a description of the early church that was focused on the teaching of the apostles and fellowship, communion and potluck meals, and prayers. Gathering together gives us the opportunity to support one another, and it strengthens us. As we participate together in worship, study and prayer we are transformed from the inside. We become more like our Lord, Jesus Christ.

As we enter this summer and seek to lose our pandemic 19, I invite you find the opportunity to exercise you faith and participate in the life of your church.