I had always assumed suicide rates were higher in the winter months. Cold winds, icy streets, gray skies, and more time alone indoors were all things I equated with sadness and depression.
This most recent winter brought an even colder chill—a storm in the form of a pandemic that shut down activities, closed stores, and stopped people from gathering. And with this storm came the gusty wind of political tension. People bundled themselves up with fear, worry, and a deep sadness in what had been lost over the past 12 months.
Save.org—a website operated by Suicide Awareness Voices of Education—shares that every year about 800,000 people in the world commit suicide. It is the second leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 24. I imagined the pairing of winter, COVID-19, and political tension in 2020 would lead to even higher suicide rates.
I was shocked to see research that suicides do not increase in wintertime. Instead, spikes occur in the spring. Some research, such as that done by Johns Hopkins, shows “overwhelming evidence . . . that inflammation from various sources, including allergic reactions, can cause or worsen depression. . . . Seasonal allergies in the spring put a large number of Americans at a higher risk for depression.”
This spring, as cold days melt away and warmer days arrive, do not stand down in your mission to reach the lost and to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). Remember that now is the time, people are hurting, and you are needed—someone’s life depends on the door you are holding open. Commit your heart to reviving your core mission and renewing your approach.
Being the light
This Easter, be open! Here are three ways I am witnessing the church be the light and prepare the way this spring.
Open the doors to the church. I recently heard Dr. Orpheus Heyward—one of the most influential leaders in the churches of Christ—say, “I am thankful for COVID. I am thankful we were shut down. It gave us insight to evaluate our programs and [to] prioritize what . . . mattered most—making disciples. Now, as we reopen all of our programs, we can be assured they are all prioritizing what is most important.”
You may not yet be able to reopen women’s lunch programs, basketball pickup leagues, or kids camps, but you can keep preaching and teaching the Word of God. You can remind those listening to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and that their core mission in being a Christian is to make disciples—to lead others into a relationship with their Savior. Open the doors to church and challenge people to open up their daily conversations to include God. Think “bigger” than the physical doors on the building.
Feed the people—in every way! Feed people physically through food pantry programs. Feed people spiritually by teaching the Word. Feed people emotionally by giving attention to them so they know they are loved. Feed people mentally through making Christian counseling opportunities available. In this most recent season we have seen a bigger need for the church to “feed” people; it has brought me great joy to see the church creatively and passionately meeting their needs.
Southeast Christian Church in Parker, Colorado, has seen needs in their surrounding communities significantly rise, and the church has accepted the challenge. Through their sister ministries at SECOR (Southeast Community Outreach) and Southeast Counseling Center, their clientele has doubled. They have connected with dozens of other churches throughout the United States because people are hungry and the church needs to be ready to feed them. Give them the bread of life.
Broker connections. We were designed to be connected with others. COVID-19 forced us all to shift from in-person to virtual connections. The church worked to bridge the gap through innovative online services with chat rooms, creative kids boxes (that families picked up from the church), childcare for essential workers, small groups, home-church groups, and homeschooling groups. Whatever connection you need, the church can point you to life-giving options.
The world needs the church like the dark needs the light. Now is the time for the church to shine, to show the world our doors are open, and to show we want to feed them and provide the connection they need. The church can be safe while serving the community and at the same time fulfilling our calling to ministry, which is essential.
Celebrations and investing
At The Solomon Foundation (TSF) most Easters have been spent preparing for and celebrating grand openings of newly expanded church buildings. It is by far the most targeted grand opening date in our work with churches as together we create plans for growth. The year 2021 is different, as we are not only celebrating four grand openings this Easter, but we are investing everything we have into helping all Restoration Movement ministries celebrate “open doors,” whatever that may look like.
TSF believes healthy leaders lead healthy churches, and therefore we invest in healthy leaders in several ways. We offer access to a clinical phycologist—Dr. Wes Beavis—who specializes in ministry burnout, we encourage leaders to rest or recharge for free at a four-bedroom house we own on the Oregon coast, and we host weekly calls to engage leaders and help them connect with one another. All 34 TSF staff members passionately care for the church, the leaders, and the people they are reaching.
Join us in celebrating four newly opened doors this Easter:
- “Open traffic patterns” . . . as Ekklesia Christian Church in Conway, South Carolina, purchased adjacent property to expand their reach. The purchase is allowing them to eliminate traffic bottlenecks and open up more parking spots.
- “Open to updates” . . . as Harmony Christian Church in Georgetown, Kentucky, completes a renovation to open up restrooms, improve their HVAC, and make other upgrades.
- “Open to expansion” . . . as Center Pointe Christian Church near Cincinnati opens a new, larger sanctuary and classroom space to keep pace with community population growth.
- “Open to fun” . . . as Discovery Christian Church in Mars, Pennsylvania, renovated an abandoned family fun center into a new church building. The idea is to transform their local communities’ idea of fun from arcade games to learning about the life of Jesus and being a lighthouse of hope in a dark world.
This last one is near and dear to the mission of TSF, as our fifth core value is to have fun. I cannot imagine a better way to have fun than to open the doors to the church, especially at Easter!