By William Hargrave
When the Rev. Everett Lees assumed the role of Christ Church’s rector in 2011, the average Sunday attendance (ASA) was about 40. Years later, just before the pandemic, Christ Church was identified as one of the fastest-growing Episcopal parishes in the country, with a 2018 ASA of 207, and 230 for 2019. Tulsa’s population grew by only half of one percent between 2013 and 2018, according to the World Population Report, while Christ Church’s ASA grew by 93 percent.
Lees says that one of the defining moments in the life of the parish was when parishioners collectively shifted their priority from trying to do everything to doing just a few things really well. This attitude particularly benefited Christ Church in the pandemic, when, rather than busying himself and the church staff with increasing their online presence, Lees worked to meet his congregation’s other needs.
“There’s no need to do what others are already doing well, and it’s important to be totally okay with that” he said. “There are already Daily Office podcasts. You can really just sit there and say, ‘Hey, Alexa, pray Morning Prayer.’”
So instead, Lees focused the parish’s efforts on community building. “Pre-COVID, we thought of community as the service we attend. While this isn’t bad, what it told us was that we need to have connecting points other than the Sunday morning worship.”
As a result, Christ Church has been organizing small groups based on the study of Scripture and a custom curriculum adapted from a sermon series from Alpha.
After recognizing that there was a growing number of families in the area, the church “made some intentional decisions to really build children’s programming,” Lees told TLC last year. “We were fortunate in that we had some folks who had some experience with Godly Play, and we were able to implement that.”
The church also hired a children’s minister, “before we even had a lot of kids,” he said. “We jumped out in a leap of faith, and we built something for the congregation we hoped to become.” It has paid off — up to a third of current attendance is kids fifth grade and below. The current ASA is about 140.
In addition to offering outdoor services for the last year, Christ Church has also been arranging concerts for local musicians as an opportunity for members of the community to simply come together again. The church also supports opportunities to give blood, and volunteers pack meals for those who were displaced during the pandemic. “What are people wanting post-COVID? That sense of community that pandemic exposed such a deep hunger for,” Lees said.
Christ Church’s summer programs include a spiritual retreat focused on liturgical and contemplative prayer, and classes on the fundamentals of the Christian faith and the Anglican church, all free and available to anyone who is interested. Christ Church’s Facebook page lists one frequently asked question: What if I can’t attend all the sessions? “It is ok if you can’t attend all sessions, the week you miss will likely cover the secrets of life.”
William Hargrave is a summer intern at the Living Church Institute, and a philosophy major at the University of the South (Sewanee).
Christ Church, Tulsa, is a partner of The Living Church.