People are lonely. A January 2020 survey from Cigna found that three in five US Americans are lonely, and we know loneliness only got exponentially worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education analyzed data from an October 2020 online survey of 950 Americans and “reported substantial increases in loneliness since the outbreak of the pandemic.” Loneliness can seem like a taboo topic, but this survey shows that our neighbors are crying out for connection. So, what does that mean for a church that believes in a relational God? The ELCA is called to respond to the needs of our world by nurturing our relationships with our global and local communities as well as building stronger ties with our neighbors.
At its November 2020 meeting, the ELCA Church Council affirmed the Future Church design, which focuses on a “renewed purpose to activate the entire church so that more people may know the way of Jesus and discover community, justice and love.” In doing so, it identified three priorities for the church moving forward:
- a welcoming church that engages new, young and diverse people
- a thriving church rooted in tradition and radically relevant
- a connected, sustainable church that shares in a common purpose and direction
These are big priorities that can be lived out in a variety of ways. One way to live into this renewed purpose is a program that evolved out of this refocused purpose statement: the Congregations Lead Initiative, made possible by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment. As our world and local contexts grow more complex, the ELCA is called to respond to the needs of our community. This program seeks to equip and inspire congregations with innovation and design-thinking tools to spark the next chapter of congregational ministry. At a time when many congregations feel like they’re struggling to survive, this initiative seeks to provide the tools to thrive. In addition, we hope this program will spark greater change across the whole ELCA, where thriving congregations will inspire a thriving church, so that all “may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10). We are looking for new and creative ways to invite people to know the love of Jesus.
God demonstrates time and again that we are meant to be in community; in one Body of Christ. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it,” (1 Corinthians 12:26). When loneliness is an epidemic, we are called to listen to our neighbors, be present in community, and to be a safe space where people can experience the love of God. If this call to activate the entire church so that more people may know the way of Jesus and discover community, justice and love excites you, then your congregation might be a great candidate for the Congregations Lead Initiative! To learn more, you can visit elca.org/congregationslead; applications are open now! If you have any questions, feel free to email CongregationsLead@elca.org.
Rebecca Payne (she/her)
Program Manager, Congregations Lead Initiative