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Cultivate Community

Accompanying in Advent

Reaching Out to Those Who Became Disconnected
by Faith+Lead | December 2, 2021

By Rev. Dr. Sarah Cordray

Carton image of four people that says Relationships in Ministry

We wait for our lives to return to normal. We wait for the pandemic to be over. We wait for a time when political parties will meet across the aisle and work for the common good. We wait for everyone to return to worship. We wait and we wait. With such a considerable amount of waiting, Advent seems to have begun long ago rather than only the four weeks before Christmas. Advent has been and is our way of life.

Advent is our way of life not only as we hope for better days but also in how we live in expectant hope. We walk with one another as the Messiah walks with us. As we sing together O Come, O Come Emmanuel, we hope for the savior who comes to accompany us in this journey of life now and forever. We are not alone in this Advent of waiting. As God accompanies us through Christ, we accompany one another, no matter where each one of us is right now.

Finding One Another 

Finding one another in this pandemic life is hard work. While divisions appear to be permanent, our sanctuaries have not returned to normal as expected. Sociologist Robert Putnam would describe these days as a social fabric that has been thinned. There are fewer people connected, decreased reciprocity and trust, and a lack of collective identity. Is our social fabric thinned to the point of tearing, or can we accompany one another in thickening that fabric again?

After such a time of thinning social fabric and a needed response, our congregation was typical in our response. We simply sat in our pews and expected the disconnected ones to return by walking themselves back into the cycle of the congregation. But many disconnected ones did not return as we expected.

The following graphic depicts how a person enters the congregation and connects with others.

In the graphic, note the large, dotted arrow drawn from the “Disconnected One” to the “Reconnecting Points in the Life Cycle”.

Accompanying Membership

Adaptive change was needed in our expectations and behaviors. With this change we could find our disconnected ones. Next, we could accompany them back to reconnecting points in the cycle of our congregational life. Through the spirit of experimentation, we created interventions which moved us out of our pews and outside our building walls. These interventions were often simple.

  • Personal invitations to participate in special activities
  • Personal recruiting for specific purposes for ministry events
  • Visits and gatherings between those active and inactive outside our church building
  • Interviews with those who had lost routines of worship

An accompanying membership developed as these interventions gave people specific ways to reach out personally to the disconnected ones. The accompanying membership moved congregational relationships beyond the participating cycle out to where other members and participants were found. As a result, our congregation no longer functions with transactional leadership. We don’t focus exclusively on engagement with members inside the participating cycle in the church. We now function with a transformational leadership that engages with members inside and outside the participating cycle. Therefore, we can reconnect where the person is found.

Note the difference after the interventions. The dotted rectangle which personifies one walking out to the disconnected one and walking with them (accompanying) back into the life cycle of the congregation. 

Reconnecting

Disconnected ones became connected again as another accompanied them. Thus, reconnecting points were brought to wherever the disconnected person was to be found. These reconnecting points were varied.

  • Personally reaching out by others to invite and involve them
  • Coming together of generations
  • Going out of our own social or church group circles/cliques
  • Having a common belief system to draw others back
  • Experiencing a deeper meaning and bond through church than other activities or organizations 

In the midst of this pandemic recovery work, we are called to get up out of our pews and seek the disconnected. We are called to find those who have lost routines of worship or those who have lost faith. We are called to proclaim the coming of the one who moves in and through us to reach out and accompany each soul into the life of Christ’s church here on earth. This accompanying membership is the incarnational presence, which embodies the “new bond between God and humans and through the community of brothers and sisters.” This accompanying membership speaks to our hopes of this advent season for Emmanuel to come walk with us as we walk with one another.

Your Turn

Review which of the accompanying membership actions described above are already being followed in your context. Which additional actions might you take? 

“Christ is coming!” is our bold proclamation penetrating into the thinned fabric of our society! Out from our pews we arise and greet the new morn of this advent accompanying the disconnected and lost to where we wait together! The Messiah—Jesus Christ our Lord—will come again and we will be ready together as we accompany one another!

About the Author
Rev. Dr. Sarah Cordray currently serves as Senior Pastor at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Syracuse, Nebraska where she has resided for over seven years with her husband, Nicholas (Deacon in the ELCA) and her two teenage children. While previously serving in a four-point parish in the Panhandle of Nebraska, Sarah quickly realized that the adaptive changes of rural communities challenged her to lead with adaptive changes in ministry. She completed her Doctor of Ministry in Congregational Leadership and Mission in 2017 from Luther Seminary during which she gained these new skill sets in her leadership. She also loves to volunteer for the Nebraska Synod through Synod Council, Leadership Team, and the NE Synod Vitality Initiative for Congregations as a coach.

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