The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has rudely interrupted society and how people live their lives. Now that states in the United States of America are beginning to relax shelter-in-place requirements to reopen the economy, pastors must seriously assess next steps for the church.
There are some questions that need to be answered. What is the current context that must be considered as we plan for the future? Does this context require new thinking and new skills? What does that mean for the church?
Anecdotally, my observation is most pastors are trying to weather this storm long enough to get back to “normal.” What may be described as normal may never reoccur. I believe the pandemic has so fundamentally altered life that what one might describe as “normal” will never return. For churches, that means large gatherings of congregants in a building on a specific day at a specific time may be a thing of the past. Online viewing of church services has replaced physical attendance of church and people seem to prefer it. Vulnerable populations, the elderly and those with underlying disease conditions, must remain cautious when considering entering crowds. The black community is especially vulnerable, as the death toll from the pandemic has revealed. If pastors are waiting for a return to “normal” they may be living in a false reality.
So, what is the new “normal?” What is the current context? Until an effective therapy can be developed or an effective vaccine becomes widely available to combat COVID-19, physical distancing and digital ministry is the new normal for the foreseeable future. Unless pastors accept this as reality and take steps to embrace it, churches will begin to experience an inevitable slide to irrelevance. That is a harsh statement. But I believe it to be true. Living in hopes of a return to yesterday will not prepare us for today and tomorrow. While some lament the closing of the physical buildings, God may be opening millions of homes to the gospel through digital ministry. And pastors must seize the moment!
In the current context, what new thinking and new skills are required? What does this mean for the church? Seizing the moment means to learn how to grow a digital ministry and expand the Kingdom of God. But simply transporting the analog activities that were done in the church building to an online environment does not work well. And it seems the very art of preaching must be reconsidered. Do people really want to watch a single camera shot of a “talking head” for thirty minutes or an hour? Remember, people are used to watching television with a level of production few churches have the resources to match. Will a more participatory presentation be more effective? How will the nurture of the members continue with rare opportunity for physical closeness most of the time? Will members be equipped to make disciples and grow church memberships even though they may not be able to invite people into a building for a presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will the church ministry be so relevant and life changing that people will want to financially support it with online giving? These and other questions must be considered along with the skills that may become necessary to be effective in growing a digital ministry.
These questions may be intimidating to pastors who have been trained to lead in quite a different environment. But God is never caught off guard. And His chosen servants need not fear. If pastors are willing to learn new skills to share the same life-changing message and grow the body of Christ, His church, the church will continue to impact the world for the better. If pastors hesitate now, much could be lost.
I am an ordained minister with a heart for God’s church. By God’s providence, I have prepared for “such a time as this.” Please reach out if I can be helpful to you. Let’s talk about a way forward that builds up the Kingdom of God!