Not only has the coronavirus pandemic radically changed the world, but it’s also radically changed how churches operate and function. Even has some places around the country have or are about to slowly ease some restrictions, churches will be facing a new reality. How will churches function in whatever new normal lies ahead?
To that end, based on trends I’m seeing and conversations I’ve had, here are five predictions about what I think will happen with the Church as we navigate the effects of COVID-19.
1. Some (or many) will disengage
Due to the interrupted rhythms life caused by the coronavirus, churches will see some people disengage, even when churches are able to resume gathering again. Some will drop off without intending too as they simply got used to spending their time differently. In addition, the less likely someone is to practice any spiritual disciplines, the more likely this is to happen.
Others will disengage due to the type or style of church they were a part of before. If faith is seen more as something you do to get healthy, wealthy, and wise, the churches where that is taught will struggle. After all, this pandemic has done anything but deliver us those things.
These are just two of a number of reasons why some, or many depending on its people and the type of church it is, will disengage. And while this isn’t something we would want. I would encourage pastors and church leaders not to focus their efforts on trying to retain those who want to walk away for superficial reasons. But more on that in a minute.
2. Some (or many) will engage for the first time
The good news about churches moving fully online for a short time is twofold. For one, churches are being forced to take engaging people online seriously. This is a very good thing.
Second, it is enabling many churches to reach and connect with people they never would have before. Add to the fact that this pandemic is opening many people’s eyes to the need for true hope and grace, and there will be many people who were disinterested in faith now seeking out the hope that Jesus provides.
This means that churches will have people engage and connect with them for the first time. How many will depend on things like how active they are online during this time, how many of their people are sharing and engaging their content, and the type of content and resources they produce.
Not that New City Church where I lead is the best example, but we have increased not just spiritual and faith-building content, but also fun and engaging content as well. If people are looking for hope, we want to provide it. If people are looking for a laugh and a distraction from everything that is going on, we want to provide that too. We believe God will use both types of content to connect us with people far from him.
3. Your faithful core will determine the health of your church
One of my biggest prayers during this time is that God would grant our church a faithful core of people (regardless of the number) who love Jesus and are ready and willing to honor and serve Him. I’m not worried about how many people that would be, but simply that God would use this time to give us a strong core desiring to realign our lives with His purposes.
This is where I believe pastors and church leaders should focus their efforts and their prayers.
Knowing that some will drop off and some will new people will check things out for the first time, we should care and pray for everyone to seek after Jesus. But we can’t be all things to all people. We need to take this time to see what adjustments God might want us to make so that we can be in the best position to utilize those who want to be a part of God’s mission.
What does it look like to build up those most committed to honoring God and loving those He has placed in their lives? What rhythms of prayer, worship, generosity, or service do you want to encourage your faithful core to pursue?
In John 15 Jesus states, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.”
Now is a great time for churches to figure out what changes they need to make to produce better fruit in the future. The health of our churches is determined by those who are the most committed. Let’s not waste this opportunity to decide what changes or tweaks need to be made not to help us cater to the masses, but to those who will drive the mission.
4. People will continue to give generously if they believe in the mission
One of the biggest fears for churches once things began to shutdown in March was around finances. Most churches are already in tight financial positions, so how long will it before they would have to close their doors?
I know this was a big concern for New City. We had just moved into a bigger building and were only able to meet in it for two Sundays before we had to close things down. How would we make our budget now that we can’t meet anymore plus the fact that we wouldn’t see any numerical growth due to the shut down?
And yet, we still hit our projected income in March and exceeded it in April. As I talked to other pastors, some have reported the same thing happening in their churches.
How is that possible?
I believe it’s because people will always support a mission they believe in. Times like this show everyone that we are not in control as well as how desperately people need to know God. To be clear, this doesn’t mean giving won’t start going down if the economy continues its downward trend, but it does mean that faithful churches with faithful people won’t dissappear overnight.
The more churches make Jesus the mission and not any other agenda, the more likely that they will be financially stable. People aren’t going to give to false hope and self-help programs. But they will give to things that promote real life change.
5. Counter-culture churches will thrive
COVID-19 only makes more real what has always been true; counter-culture churches will thrive. Churches that faithfully teach the good news of the Gospel and Scripture will always be around. Even in places in China or Iran where many churches are run underground; the Church has seen massive growth. In places like America or Europe, where contemporary values often couldn’t be more different than Biblical ones, it is the liberal (theologically) churches and mainline denominations that are seeing the fastest decline.
Churches that lovingly teach the good news of Christ and call people to His standard will thrive, regardless of how large or influential the church might be in the community.
Theologian David Wells says that “Worldliness is that system of values…which makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange.” Because of that, you would think churches that pursue Jesus instead of worldliness would then die out. After all, a group of people who don’t celebrate what culture at large celebrates would eventually be at least shunned out of existence, right? But the data shows us the opposite is true.
Now is the time to faithfully follow Jesus. The people and the churches that are willing to do that and trust in Him during this hard time are the people and churches God will use as we move forward.
Let’s not just survive, let’s thrive
Original article appears here.
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