For the Woman Who’s Anxious about Returning to Church
The first Sunday you missed church services it didn’t seem like a big deal. Doesn’t everyone skip occasionally? You told yourself you’d be walking back into the church building soon enough. In the meantime, worshiping online would be sufficient. When week two came and went, you felt a little guilty that you were missing out on the weekly rhythms of gathering with other Christians. But you had your reasons:
- You were too sick to attend.
- A family member needed you.
- You were on vacation or traveling for business.
- You were busy.
But then a month went by, then another. Before you knew it, it became harder to go back than it had ever been to simply stay. Now the thought of returning to a weekly Bible study makes you anxious. You don’t know who will be there or how they’ll respond to your extended absence. You don’t know whether you’ll be welcomed back or if people will even have realized you were gone.
I know how that feels. There have been seasons in my life when chronic illness has kept me home on Sundays. While it’s true there have been countless mornings when I’ve had no choice but to stay home because of unbearable pain or uncooperative symptoms, it’s also true that there have been times when I could have gone back and didn’t. On those days,pride fed my worries about how I’d be perceived and received by others. It kept me from acknowledging my need for Christ. And it prevented me from obeying the commands to love and serve His people.
You may have other reasons you’ve been absent from the Sunday school attendance list for weeks, months, or even years. But now you feel the tug to go back to your local church and be involved. You know it’s time, but you’re nervous at the thought of returning.
I asked a few Revive Our Hearts Ambassadors to speak directly to you. They’ve lived on all sides of this through their varied experiences as church members and women in ministry. They know what it’s like to be both involved and inactive, visitors and leaders, the pastor’s wife and the woman who feels disconnected from community. These women, some of whom include Karen Watts in West Texas,Kim Zolman in Indiana, Margaret Yost in Ohio, and Lyssette Smith in Florida, all understand that the local church is not perfect. They know it’s made up of men and women who need the mercy and grace of Christ, but they also know there’s no better place to see the beauty of Jesus on display than His Church.
Prayers for Your Return
When I interviewed the Ambassadors, I asked them if they would write their prayers for you, a woman who may be going back into a worship service or Sunday school class this weekend for the first time in a while. These Ambassadors may not know your name or live nearby, but if they could, they would take you by the hand and walk you back into your church building themselves.
As you read their prayers, know that each of them have already lifted you up to the God who goes before you and who has promised to remain with you every step of your return.
- “Dear Father, thank you for this precious friend. Thank you for her desire to once again meet with your people. Father, I know that she may be feeling a little nervous about returning. I ask that You will remove all fear and anxiety from her heart, and fill her with feelings of hope, renewal, and expectation. Father, fill her with Your peace, and grant her a desire to be faithful in attending on a weekly basis.”
“May she experience acceptance and love from Your people that will cause her to be at ease. May she be welcomed with warmth and friendliness by those she meets, and may she respond in kind. Father, please provide a friend for her. And if she begins to feel discouraged, may she find her strength and encouragement in You. May she persevere, being reminded of the importance of meeting together as You have stated in Your Word. May Your Word come alive in her, and may her desire for You deepen day by day. I ask these things in Jesus’ name.” —Anonymous
- “God, thank You that You see each one of us and that You care about us. Thank You that You never leave us or forsake us. Thank You that you desire for us to grow in You and to learn from You and from others in the body of Christ. I ask that You come alongside this dear sister and help her to take the step of getting back into church. May she sense Your nearness. Remind her that she will not be alone as she walks through those doors but that You will be with her each step of the way.”
“Give her such a strong desire for You and Your people that she will no longer want to stay away from the body of believers. Give her a hunger and thirst for You that far outweighs any other feeling or emotion that would keep her from going back. Protect her mind from any negative feelings that would keep her from enjoying the fellowship that can come from being with others and from hearing Your Word being proclaimed. May she walk in obedience to what You have asked of us. May she say ‘Yes, Lord,’ and may You bless her time as she keeps her eyes on You.” —Kim
- “Lord, will You give her conviction and courage? Make her visible within her church context. Give sensitivity and discernment to those who will greet her and to those who are already well-connected. Let her feel the unmistakable presence and grace of the Lord Jesus as she enters.” —Karen
- “Father God, how I give You all of the glory and honor, for You are the great I Am, and You hear our prayers. Lord, you know that woman who feels nervous, and I ask that You remind her of who she is in You, and that You continue to walk before her daily. May she lay all her anxieties at Your feet. Give her strength, and Father, may You place another Christian sister in her path to encourage her along the way. Father, I know that You are able. It is in your Son Jesus’ Name that I pray. Amen.” —Lyssette
- “Father in Heaven, I know You are building Your church. Although it might look scary and cause anxiety for her return, You, Lord, have a firm hold of her heart. Give her the comfort and peace she needs to take a faithful step in the right direction.” —Margaret
You Need the Body, the Body Needs You
In the comfort and convenience of online services, podcasts, and programs, you may be wondering: “Does it really matter that I rejoin a local church or allow time for women’s ministry events during the week?” Yes. When I asked the Ambassadors, they shared that being an active member of your local church matters because . . .
- God has told us in His Word to not give up meeting together. (Heb. 10:25)
- Participation in the church is His mandate and directive for His people.
- It’s necessary for discipleship.
- It’s where we grow in our knowledge and love for Christ and His Word.
- When we meet together, we spur one another on to love and good works. (Heb. 10:24)
- When we interact with other believers, we challenge each other and can hold each other accountable in our walks with the Lord. (Prov. 27:17)
- Being among both older and younger women provides perspective and connection.
- Together, we share triumphs and truth. We also share our failures and struggles to learn from our mistakes.
- The church provides sisters who can become a safe place, especially during hard times.
- God designed us as relational beings, and we can’t live life alone.
If you’re ready to plug back into your local church, the Ambassadors have suggested beginning with these steps:
Ask God for wisdom to know where to begin and for courage to go.
2. Don’t be a spectator.
Rather than focusing on what you can gain from the church, see where the Lord would use you to serve Him and to pour into others.
3. Join a small group
that meets weekly and begin getting to know those few women in a more personal setting.
4. Find a place to serve
alongside church members. Your closest bonds may come as you work together for a common purpose.
5. Be a friend.
Instead of waiting for others to come to you, make it your goal to find another woman who is by herself. Meet her for coffee or dinner, or find out how you can pray for her—as you do, make it your goal to be an encouragement to her as you both find your place in the church.
Regular attendance makes a difference, so decide today that you will not only show up each week but you’ll also get to know the leaders and other familiar faces.
Remember: “Satan wants you to live with fear and anxiety and to not return,” Kim says, “but the Lord has said to not be anxious about anything. Take every thought captive and make each one obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Keep your eyes on Him. He is able to help you to have the desire to be back with the body and to be concerned—not with what others think of you—but with what is pleasing and honoring to the Lord.”
Find Your Why
In a few weeks, once you’ve spent some time getting reacquainted with the people in your church, sit down with some of the leaders or teachers who have spent years there. Ask them the same question I asked the Revive Our Hearts Ambassadors: “You’ve seen it all—the good and bad, the broken and beautiful. Why is the Church still worth it?”
Karen, a widow, often struggles with walking into church alone. But she has learned that the awkward is temporary, and that she will benefit from all aspects of the service. “Mostly,” she says, “singing the truth that I’m struggling to believe strengthens me for the hard things I’m facing.” She has also realized, “The Church is God’s provision for His people. The Church, the people, are the body of Christ. Doing life with broken and beautiful people provides context for refining if we are willing to allow God to use it that way.”
Will you allow God to use it that way? This Sunday, may God not only give you courage to return, but as you do, may He give you a glimpse of what He is doing through the Church, a glorious plan you’re not going to want to miss out on.
Editor’s Note: On Monday, come back to hear more from these Ambassadors who will share advice for the women’s ministry leader or local church member who has noticed the trend of women leaving the church and who longs to see them return.
Revive Our Hearts exists to help women thrive in Christ during every season of life. That’s why all this month, we’re encouraging you to fix your eyes on eternity. Find out why, in the face of deep sorrow, Colleen Chao still exhibits unquenchable joy when you request her book In the Hands of a Fiercely Tender God: 31 Days of Hope, Honesty, and Encouragement for the Sufferer. It’s yours when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry.