Lessons In Getting People Back to In-Person Services with Kyle Mercer

Welcome to the unSeminary podcast! Today we have lead pastor Kyle Mercer with us from Two Cities Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Two Cities was originally planted out of The Summit Church with J.D. Greear in 2016 and grew to about 1300 people before covid, becoming one of the fastest growing churches in the country.

When churches were forced to move to all online services in the spring of 2020, at first it was a novelty. After a while though Two Cities Church felt that something was really missing. So around mid-May the staff began to intentionally and aggressively pursue how to get people back in person. Listen in as Kyle shares their transition back and their approach to everything from navigating the differing opinions about mask-wearing to starting up kids’ ministry again.

  • Online vs in-person. // Two Cities Church called an emergency meeting with the staff to talk about the governor’s order of shutdown back in the spring. After fifteen weeks of online services, they concluded that online is a great supplement, but it’s not a substitute for in-person gatherings. So at this point the church leaned heavily into the importance of getting people back to meeting in-person.
  • Returning to in-person. // The decision to focus on in-person gatherings came from several principles they felt were important in the church, and they called a member gathering to explain this. Firstly, according to scripture, there is a theological conviction for the church to gather in person. Depression, anxiety and addictive behavior were also on the rise. It was clear that people weren’t doing well, finding it difficult to be isolated from the community during the pandemic, or being overwhelmed with changes in their everyday life. Additionally, online-only services cause us to miss out on the hundreds or thousands of conversations that happen on any given Sunday.
  • Weighing the decision. // The leadership of the church weighed the pros and cons seriously. They thought about covid, the science around it, and how dangerous it could be, but they also focused on the truth of scripture. They knew all of this wasn’t going away soon, yet it was clear that their people were ready to come back to meeting in-person.
  • Beginning the transition. // People at Two Cities Church were willing to come to a service without childcare in the middle of the week even after a day at work during this pandemic. During the summer they launched a Thursday night service at 6:30pm and after six weeks it felt like they were really thriving again. People expressed an interest in moving back to Sunday services with kids ministry at this point, so after eleven weeks of Thursday night gatherings, Two Cities transitioned back to three indoor services on Sundays beginning in the fall.
  • The mask issue. // People feel differently about masks and the church approached this hot topic humbly and graciously, trying to listen and learn from what people had to say. Some people associate masks with pollution or totalitarianism. Others associate it with being loved and loving others. Some congregants wanted to wear a mask because the governor had a mask mandate, while others thought it hindered their worship and ability to minister to others. Two Cities wanted to be good citizens and they know masks do something, even if they don’t know how much. And they care about both freedom and the safety of others. All of this led to the church having their 9 and 11am services as “mask-expected” (particularly during singing), but the 5pm service was “mask-required” and the church underscored that they would enforce this at the evening service. After three weeks of Sunday services, attendance was between 900-1000 people, almost back to pre-covid numbers.
  • Relaunching kids’ ministry. // Not having kids ministry operating during the Thursday night service was a big hindrance to families returning to church, so Two Cities felt that kids programming needed to start again on Sundays. In the kids ministry area masks are required for all adults, whether they are volunteers are parents. Kids can wear masks if their parents want them too, but it’s not required. There are, however, temperature checks for the kids when they come in on a Sunday for children’s church. The biggest challenge in this area was rebuilding the culture of service. Volunteers would be needed to serve every week, and then attend another service, because there was a shortage of people. The good news is this volunteer area is slowly being built up again as well.

You can learn more about Two Cities Church at their website www.twocitieschurch.net.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.