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Fred, a deacon at my church, was giving updates on mission opportunities. “On March 30th we will be serving lunch at the church up the road.”

To which another person responded, “That church mission is stuck between Good Friday and Easter Sunday!

After the meeting that sentence stayed with me. “Stuck between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.” And I wondered, how many churches find themselves stuck in that space?

The statistics on church attendance today are discouraging to say the least. Every church leader knows the difficulty of post-covid ministry. Throw in another “most important election of our lives,” along with the challenges particular to any given context, it is no wonder many church leaders are asking, “What do we do now?”

For many, the answer is best summed up as “revitalization.”

I hear it in meetings with pastors and elders. It shows up in job postings. Ministry sites are described as “prime for revitalization.” To which I ask, what is meant by “revitalization,” and is it really the answer we seek?

Many of my colleagues can tell you the names of the volunteers who baked pies for the regional church meeting twenty five years ago, and some can still remember what they smelled like fresh out of the oven. I have colleagues who have pastored a congregation for nearly thirty years, through hurricanes, floods, and fires. They have held babies born to third generation church members, joined members of their congregation in marriage, and held the hands of folks they had come to love as family when they left this life for the next. If you were one of these folks, of course you would want to ensure that your beloved church would continue on into the next generation. No one wants to see a church close or a ministry end on their watch.

And yet, I wonder how many people in these positions are using the term revitalization as a code for turning back the clock.

“If we can revitalize, then we will see our Sunday School come back.”

“If we hire this consultant, then we will grow like we used to.”

“There are no young families coming to worship, so we need revitalization.”

Of course, it is important to acknowledge that many churches will engage in the hard work of processes like self-study and interim work with positive results. Self-awareness is always a good thing.

But for churches that are stuck between Good Friday and Easter Sunday that awareness may only make the future seem bleaker than before. If you have lived through Good Friday as a community, then you’ve seen death. You’ve seen beloved programs, ministries, and often people leave.

Revitalization won’t bring back the church of fond memories. It won’t erase the pain of the Good Friday years. Every church will eventually pass away. The churches planted by Peter and Paul are not here anymore. Why would we ever think that our churches would be the exception?

But there is good news. There is a way through Good Friday. The way of resurrection.

Resurrection forces us to face the reality of death, and the pain and grief of letting go of what was, while clinging to the sure and certain hope that death is not the final word. The truth is that the churches of Paul and Peter are gone, but the Church of Jesus Christ remains.

Even when death arrives, resurrection can be found on the other side of Good Friday.

I grew up in a small church in Upstate New York. Despite the small attendance on Sunday, the church was active in the community. One way they served was through a weekend meal program. Volunteers would cook, serve, and clean up a meal for anyone who showed up. Whether it was folks on food stamps or elderly folks who longed for community, all would find a place at the church’s tables. I loved working these meals, because it was often a time where I volunteered with friends and received treats from the older folks. Because I loved this program so much I was very upset when I heard that it would be shutting down.

There were many reasons for why the program had to end. I didn’t want to hear them. I was disappointed because this program wasn’t just good for the community, it was the catalyst for so many of my childhood memories in that church. Still, the program was at its Good Friday moment.

As my home church found itself stuck between Good Friday and Easter Sunday they began to imagine resurrection. I was not a part of the conversation, but I have to think there were those who were grieving the loss of the weekend meal program. And yet, they worked through the grief and loss, and got unstuck.

Where there was once a weekend meal program, there is now an emergency food pantry. The church still feeds the community, though not in the same way as when I was a kid. Donations and volunteers don’t come from all of the same places, and yet this church has turned the corner into Easter Sunday, they are living a resurrection.

In Mark’s gospel, when the women first approached the tomb and saw that it was empty, “terror and amazement seized them.” This is the reality of resurrection. Terror concerning the unknown, the unanswered questions, the massive risks involved. But also amazement at what God continues to do in this world, at what the people who care for these churches can do, and at what glorious future is in store.

Every leader in the church, sooner or later, will have to wrestle with the death of beloved things. So, in that wrestling, how might we honor the past that we remember so fondly, and grieve the loss of what was? How might we learn to let go of ministries and programs that just aren’t coming back? What needs to happen to get us unstuck? What does resurrection look like?

Gene Ryan

Gene Ryan serves as the Family Life Pastor for the Colts Neck Reformed Church, Colts Neck, New Jersey. He is a graduate of Hope College (2018) and Western Theological Seminary (2021) and was ordained as a Minister of Word & Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America in 2021.


  • Lynn Japinga says:

    Great essay, Gene!!! Glad you are writing here!

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Such good words of wisdom, especially the “stuck between Good Friday and Easter”. Churches that think a ‘revitalization program’ will somehow solve their problems may just be prolonging the dying. Even though, as Scott pointed out yesterday, Covid and online possibilities have radically changed our worship landscape, I’m hoping they have changed our perception of community. This “community” should thrive not just on Sunday, but in homes, bed-sides, coffee shops, and around tables, with the time-consuming task of caring and carrying each others joys, struggles, and sorrows. Thank you for reminding us that our church, and by extension, the CRC, is not the center of the Kingdom. If mine were gone, as much as I might grieve the loss of my family at 2nd CRC, the work of God in the world would continue.

  • Daniel Meeter says:
    Jack Ridl’s poem “Here In the Time in Between” seems particularly appropriate.

  • Phyllis Palsma says:

    Thanks, Gene. This reminds of the time I was doing some “revitalization” work with a church and a long-time member said “I’m all for revitalization. But, I don’t want to see anything change.” Sadly, she was prophetic.

  • Diana Walker says:

    It’s so easy to fall into the mindset of Great Yesterdays.
    It’s up to us to move forward into the creation of Great Todays knowing that they will become the Great Yesterdays for others.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    In a 2017 conversation between James KA Smith and Tim Keller it was said, “The health of the church is important for the whole society… If the church is the church, then it helps the world.” The best way to help ourselves get unstuck is to do more for other people today. That’s what resurrection living looks like to me.

  • Steve Bouma-Prediger says:

    Dear Friends,
    Thank you, Gene, for your thoughtful reflections,
    and thank you, Jack, for your lovely poem,
    and thank you, Daniel, for pointing us to the poem.

  • Jane Schuyler says:

    So good to hear your voice here, Gene! Well done!

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