“Opportune” is a word that is consistently used lately by Oklahoma Baptist leaders. That is how James Swain describes the ReGather emphasis that was launched through a webpage in mid-May.
“I think this may be the most opportune fall in the history of Oklahoma Baptists—at least in our modern history,” said Swain who serves as Oklahoma Baptists’ associate executive director for church relations. “A lot of our churches have the opportunity to do a ‘reset’ especially with their small groups. Many churches have not gone back to doing in-person small groups, or maybe they are doing hybrid (a mix of in-person and online). We want to place some emphasis on that.”
In early spring, Oklahoma Baptists’ regional ministry partners met with pastors across the state in what Swain called roundtable discussions, involving how to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The questions the ministry partners asked focused on how pastors were doing, how their church was doing and how the churches and leadership will approach the summer and the fall.
“What we heard from pastors about themselves and about their church is they needed to grieve—everybody had some losses personally in this season—and they need to refocus on what happens next,” Swain said.
Not all that resulted from 2020 is negative, Swain said. He pointed to churches doing financially better than expected.
“Out of 2020, (finances) might be the only metric that really gauges a church’s health because so much of our gathering did not take place in person,” he said. “We’ve come through this stronger than anybody anticipated.”
Now, Swain said it is important for Oklahoma Baptist churches to prepare for people to return and to make a great emphasis about returning this fall.
“We’re 90 days away from the start of school in many places,” he said. “This summer is going to be busy with VBS and camps. We’re encouraging pastors and church leaders to not let this opportunity sneak up on them. Make sure there is some preparation.”
After gathering results from discussions with pastors and to help churches prepare for the upcoming fall, Oklahoma Baptists offer a new webpage titled “ReGather,” which can be found at oklahomabaptists.org/ReGather.
What’s on the ReGather webpage?
Scrolling down the page, viewers will first find messages for Oklahoma Baptist pastors.
“Pastors need to guard their own emotional health,” the webpage stated. “They need to grieve their losses and share their struggles with safe people who will provide support for them.”
The messages for pastors emphasize the need to “Rejoice, Refocus and Rest” as focal points to recover from the 2020 pandemic.
The webpage’s focus then turns to people. “The people of our churches need many of the same things our pastors need,” the webpage stated. “They need time to grieve their losses and be renewed emotionally and spiritually.”
Observations are offered about church members being strong and loyal, needing leadership and missing in-person gatherings.
From there, the ReGather webpage features suggested plans and resources to help Oklahoma Baptist churches. The resources include folders and files provided by Lifeway Christian Resources that help restart groups build an emphasis for Bible study groups.
Swain said the webpage is an excellent source of information, and he appreciates Lifeway helping with the ReGather emphasis.
“Lifeway has been very generous with us and provided some preparation resources for regathering,” he said. “We are going to populate the webpage with those tools that a church can use.”
ReGather and rebuild
Some key points that Swain emphasized included the importance of equipping in ministry and outreach.
“One of the things that COVID exposed is the evangelism strategy at most of our churches,” Swain said. “The approach has been ‘come and see.’ We need to be equipping people to ‘go and tell.’”
He suggested equipping church members to reach people in the community through missional opportunities as well as contacting people on church rolls who have not attended for a while.
“We spent a year telling people to stay away from each other,” Swain said. “Now there will be some fellowship opportunities. Take some Sunday nights and make them fellowship times, whether that’s for groups or classes or even having a church-wide gathering. Honestly, I don’t know if there is a better way to fellowship than for people to serve together through ministry missional opportunities.”
No church has the same community setting, so ReGather is not emphasizing a “one-size-fits-all” approach to rebuilding fellowship this fall.
“Every context is different,” Swain said. “Our general encouragement is pick a day that is the most opportune day for your church to have a welcome back, welcome home, high attendance, let’s round everybody up event. That could be either at the end of August or right after Labor Day.”
ReGather gives a clear emphasis to all Oklahoma Baptist churches to be a part of a fall promotion. Visit oklahomabaptists.org/ReGather for helpful resources or, for further guidance, contact one of the regional ministry partners whose contact information can be found at oklahomabaptists.org/relations.
“Don’t miss this window of opportunity,” Swain said. “A pastor friend of mine summed it up best when he said, by the holidays, people will have established their participation pattern (in church). We have a window of opportunity that I think can be significant to reengage some people as we are regathering them.”