“Why are masks so common in some churches yet rare in others?”
At our church retreat last week, during the Saturday morning session a man who just started attending our church confessed that he struggles with meth. The speaker thanked “Robert” for his honesty.
The next day Robert mentioned that he had first shared his struggle with one other person. When he wasn’t judged, he felt safe enough to risk sharing it with the whole group.
Robert’s experience was exciting, but not unusual. And it didn’t “just happen.” Our church’s founding pastor, Dennis, modeled living without masks. When he struggled with depression, he would say he was depressed. When he felt disrespected, he would share in his sermons how he had been looking for his sense of value in the wrong places. When he got irritated and came off too harsh, he was quick to apologize.
Dennis modeled being real. And because he modeled that, our small group leaders—we call them shepherds—over time learned to do the same. Not perfectly, not all the time, but most of the time. Mask-free living became the norm.
Then because our shepherds were modeling vulnerability, people in their small groups began taking off their masks. I’ve often seen a visitor to a small group share his guts the first time he comes—telling a story of addictions or prison or sexual sin or broken relationships. Why? Because after a half hour in one of our small groups, it’s clear from everyone else’s sharing: I don’t need a mask here. Nobody’s going to judge me.
So, when Robert came to retreat, he was surrounded by mask-free people and it didn’t take him long to figure out, “It’s safe to be real here.”
Becoming a church without masks doesn’t just happen. It begins when the lead pastor and other core leaders lead by example, confessing their sins to one another (James 5:16), bearing one another’s burdens when they fail (Gal. 6:1-2). Not now and then, but as a lifestyle.
It spreads as small group leaders, teachers, and ministry leaders learn to live without masks. At our church, it took several years for most of leaders to learn to model vulnerability, and a few still struggle with it, but today, mask-free living is the norm, not the exception.
When people from other churches visit ours, I often hear two comments: (1) “Everybody here is so friendly!” and (2) “I can’t believe how real people are. It’s not like my church where most people wear masks.”
A church without masks creates an amazing space for life transformation. But there are no shortcuts. It begins—always—with the core leaders getting real, and it continues only as we stay real.
- Does your church have lots of masks or very few?
- How consistently do you model mask-free living? What hinders you from being more real about your sins and struggles with those you lead?